The WoodChip Conservation Volunteers
The WoodChips are a small group of people who work to improve the environment at Banstead Wood and Chipstead Downs Local Nature Reserve. The group was set up by two volunteers in 2007 with the intention of working on local environment and conservation projects as part of the Downlands Countryside Management Project. At this time, sites in Chipstead Valley, Banstead Wood and a privately owned site in Woodmansterne were under active management by the WoodChips. As these were local sites, managed by local people, the name of the group was derived from Wood(mansterne) and Chips(tead) giving us the name we still carry today – the WoodChips.
What is the area we cover?
As time passed, the group of volunteers grew, enabling us to take on larger tasks. Tools were gradually amassed and skills developed. Work programmes were agreed with the Countryside Manager at Reigate & Banstead Borough Council and Natural England, as much of the land that we assisted in managing is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). In 2012, the WoodChips formally separated from the Downlands Project and became an autonomous group working only on RBBC-owned land at Banstead Wood and the Chipstead Downs. This remains the case today, although the entire site has been declared a Local Nature Reserve. See area covered.
What sort of tasks are done by the WoodChips?
The work carried out by the group includes coppicing of the hazel in Banstead Wood, small scrub reduction on the grasslands, litter picking, rare species habitat management, butterfly transect walking, tree planting, keeping paths open and any other suitable tasks. Wherever possible we use hand tools – mechanical tools have mostly been abandoned – petrol-powered brush cutters have been replaced by hand scythes, chainsaws replaced by hand saws including our mighty four foot long, double-handled cross-cut saw, known as the Beast. In many instances we have discovered that the ‘old’ ways of countryside management are as efficient as the modern, powered means but have the advantage of being less polluting, quieter and, mostly, more satisfying.
Although we are a small group, we aim to make a big difference: we put in over 2,500 volunteer hours last year. And all while enjoying the fresh air and beauty of our local outdoors.
What do you need to take part?
Just some clothes you don't mind getting dirty, plus a stout pair of boots, work gloves, a drink and a snack. Tools can be provided, although you are welcome to bring your own.
Which are the task days?
We go out on task for a few mornings each week, currently Tuesday and Thursday, with occasional Sunday mornings if enough volunteers are available. It's a relaxed form of flexitime: you can join in for as long or as short as you like.
How long does it take?
Our task sessions last for around three hours with two breaks for refreshments. Beginners are welcome: training will be provided if necessary. Go here if you would like regular information about the WoodChips and their current tasks.