What We Do
How We Work
We run a very tight ship. KWES has no paid staff apart from a part time administrator, and trustees are neither paid nor do they have any expenses reimbursed. The Chairman provides an office, free, in her home. Thus administrative costs comprise only such unavoidable items as charges by banks, internet service providers and an independent examiner of our accounts, together with occasional use of bought-in secretarial services.
Those who give us grants, donations and membership subscriptions can be assured that these are spent on our charitable objectives.
Who We Work With
We primarily work with three fully qualified foresters who are forestry instructors and former KWES Team Leaders from the time when we were training our own apprentices. Subsequently they have set up a commercial forestry business, taking over what was previously KWES’s compound.
They themselves are as committed as is KWES itself to the training of new entrants – putting something back into an industry that has given them rewarding careers.
We also have available a number of further instructors in specialist areas.
As a registered provider of apprenticeship training we are qualified to draw down apprenticeship subsidies from the Education and Skills Funding Agency, and we co-operate closely with other training organisations such as the Kent County Council’s adult education service, and colleges in Kent and the south east.
Our obligations are identical, whether we are offering only training, or are also the employer of a trainee. Those asking for training will get advice about what are the appropriate courses, and we will carefully monitor both progress and well-being during that training, and assist the trainee to a successful outcome.
KWES works with a wide range of woodland owners including individuals, farms and estates, through to such organisations as the Forestry Commission, the Woodland Trust, and Kew at Wakehurst Place.
We are especially keen to help owners of ancient woodlands, particularly those not currently managed, to bring them back into sustainable production and profitability – now possible as a result of increases in demand for timber and woodfuel (logwood, chips and pellets). The pinch-point is shortage of skilled workers to restore woodlands and to fell and extract timber.
Wholesale, Retail and Distribution Outlets
This sector is recovering from the decline that has afflicted the whole industry for a century, and KWES is happy to be able to say that our own efforts in boosting employment, and production of timber and products, are playing a part in this regeneration.
Another strand of our work is helping other charitable organisations and local authorities to maintain ancient woodlands which are open to the public, and provide wonderful natural areas for local residents and visitors from further afield to enjoy. These include Gorham and Admiral Community woodlands at Bicknor in the Kent North Downs AONB, owned by the Cromarty Trust, the ancient woodlands owned by Royal Botanic Gardens Kew at Wakehurst Place, and Holly Hill wood near Birling owned by Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council.
But we also help local communities who have lost jobs in forestry, or who have lost opportunities they once had to enjoy their local woods. KWES is co-ordinating a bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, with the help of Mid-Kent Downs, and Medway Valley Countryside Partnerships, on behalf of several community and volunteer managed woodland across north west Kent, enabling them to achieve more effective management and coppicing, creating wildlife corridors linking the woodlands, and establishing better liaison with local residents, especially with schools and their pupils.
Broadleaf Woodlands in the South East
Kent, with East Sussex, remain among the most densely wooded counties in the country. It is still possible to see that the poor soils and steep slopes of Kent’s North Downs, and the area of the High Weald stretching into Sussex were less attractive to those who down the centuries cleared so much of Britain’s forests for agriculture.
These woods provided not only timber for building and ship-building, tanneries and hop-gardens, and later pit-props and papermaking, but their charcoal was a main energy source for Kent’s iron-smelters. When these industries declined, the woodland industry went into decline, and increasing numbers of woods ceased to be managed.
As a result the tonnage of growing wood needing to be coppiced each year continues to increase.
Coppice with standards
Coppicing is the traditional management system in these woodlands, treating trees as a crop to be harvested at intervals generally between 15 and 45 years – a non-destructive process in which the tree is cut down to a stump (or “stool”) from which it re-grows to be coppiced again after the same period.
The “standards”, usually oaks well spaced among the coppice, are left to grow to maturity before they are felled; but standards then need to be replanted.
Coppicing lets light and air into the woodland floor encouraging flora and fungi – they in turn encourage fauna such as butterflies, insects, birds and small mammals. When a wood is not coppiced on a regular basis, the trees grow into “high forest”, shutting out the light at ground level and killing all the flora below – but the coppice trees themselves are too closely spaced to grow into valuable timber.
Coppice that is “overstood” can produce second grade timber, and can, now that the demand and prices are improving be profitably used for woodfuel, (logwood, chips and pellets). And with hard work it can be regenerated into productive and truly profitable woodland, with the coppicing cycle restored.
Ancient woodlands have ecosystems that are rich, complex and irreplaceable.
The definition of an ancient wood is that it must have existed since before 1600 AD (1750 in Scotland). These are the dates when tree-planting became common, so ancient woods were never planted, they evolved naturally – many linking back to the original woodland that covered the UK after the last ice age 10,000 years ago.
Woodland cover across the UK as a whole is approximately 10 percent, (20 percent in Kent’s North Downs and the High Weald). But the UK’s ancient woodland cover is only 2 percent.
Ancient woods, having been in existence for so long, have soils which have never been fertilised or otherwise disturbed by agriculture. Their communities of plants and animals, many of them rare and vulnerable, depend on these stable conditions. Woods planted today will not become ancient woods in four hundred years time because the soils on which they develop have been modified by modern agriculture or industry, and the fragmentation of natural habitats in today’s landscape hampers species’ natural movements and interactions. Many species characteristic of ancient woodland are slow to disperse and do not colonise new areas easily.
These woods are a delight to visit at any time of year. Spectacular displays of spring flowers, bursts of wood anemones and celandines are followed by carpets of bluebells interspersed with some of the rarer orchids. Abundant fungi are evidence of undisturbed soils, and other ancient woodland indicator species include ramsons (wild garlic), dog mercury, yellow archangel and herb paris. In autumn, the surprise of coming across a heavily fruiting crab apple tree is a sure sign that one is in ancient woodland.
And one constantly come across medieval boundary banks and lynchets, charcoal hearths, besides veteran trees, pollards and old coppice stools – all telling us how the wood was used over the centuries.
These ecosystems, which provided much of the herbs and medicines that our forebears relied on, are still far from fully understood. They are Britain’s equivalent of tropical rainforest. We destroy them at our peril.
The threats to all this come from two directions.
Without management, coppicing, a woodland becomes ever more overstood – ever denser tree canopy shutting out light and air and killing the ground level flora and fauna. Not only is its owner depriving himself of the income it could provide, but it can be flattened by any storm, or laid waste by any of the increasing numbers of tree diseases.
And ancient woodland has little statutory protection, and the south east faces ever greater pressure for development.
Once ancient woodland is lost it cannot be re-created – it is gone forever.