What We Do
How We Work
We run a very tight ship. We ensure that as far as possible all money donated to KWES is spent on funding as many apprenticeships as possible together with the necessary equipment and training to ensure apprentices operate in a safe environment that is conducive to learning all the necessary academic and practical skills needed to become a fully qualified woodland manager.
To this end of the 24 members of staff there is only one who is not either an apprentice or a trainer/Team Leader, the KWES office administrator. All of the people, Trustees, marketing and sales are unpaid volunteers.
The working day of our apprentices is very much driven by the seasons. Apprentices begin at the start of the coppicing season in October and spend from then until March primarily working to receive Level 2 Mandatory Practical Certificates.
Working in small teams of four apprentices under the supervision of a fully qualified Team Leader in beautiful ancient woodland surroundings, provides the ideal mix of mental fulfillment and solid physical activity that apprentices appreciate and few of us ever get to experience.
Coppicing work traditionally takes place from October to the end of March. There is no specific silvicultural reason for this except:-
- Coppice which is cut during July, August and September will produce shoots which are not frost hardy.
- Coppicing during the spring will disturb nesting birds and trample the ground flora.
- Coppice material cut in the winter works better and lasts longer than that cut when the sap levels are higher.
Coppicing has been traced back to Neolithic times by archaeologists who have excavated wooden tracks over boggy ground made entirely of coppiced material.
Coppicing occurs when a tree is felled and sprouts arise from the cut stump (known as a stool). This process can be carried out over and over again and is sustainable over hundreds of years with the stool getting ever larger in diameter.
All broadleaves coppice but some are stronger than others. The best are ash, hazel, oak, sweet chestnut and lime whilst weaker species include beech, wild cherry and poplar. Conifers on the other hand do not coppice.
In the second half of the year April to September apprentices concentrate more on theoretical training. All mandatory theoretical training has to be passed including principles of forestry and ecology; woodland planting and aftercare; plant physiology; and the interaction of environments and plants.
Level 3 Silviculture award over the next two years has mandatory theoretical and practical qualifications to ensure that apprentices can apply what they have learnt in a real woodland environment.
Who We Work With
We work closely with a number of world class organisations to supplement the intensive and comprehensive training that KWES Team Leaders provide our apprentices including The Royal Botanic Gardens KEW at Wakehurst, Esus Forestry and ME Training Services.
The apprentices study for two professional forestry qualifications designed by the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) and awarded through the Awarding Bodies Consortium (ABC), the Level 2 Certificate in Forestry and the Level 3 Certificate in Silviculture (the sustainable management of woodlands). These are widely recognised throughout the forestry industry. The Horticulture Correspondence College provide the theoretical qualifications, LANTRA trainers and KWES Team Leaders the practical ones. Awards include using chainsaws, cross-cutting timber, felling and processing trees, safe pesticide and forestry machinery use, and wood processing.
Kent Woodland Employment Scheme works with many woodland owners throughout the county.
All our apprentices work to the highest possible standards under the supervision of our fully qualified Team Leaders. Our workforce comes fully equipped with all the necessary personal protective equipment, the required certification together with Employer’s Liability Insurance. We provide our own chainsaws and brush cutting equipment and when necessary we bring our own specialised equipment for use in ancient woodlands such as a low impact forwarding trailer.
We work with a wide range of woodland owners ranging from individual woodland owners, farms and estates through to organisations such as The Forestry Commission, The Woodland Trust and Kew at Wakehurst Place.
Kent Woodland Employment Scheme also works with owners of ancient woodlands, particularly those that are not currently managed, to bring them back into sustainable production and profitability. Increases in demand and prices for timber and woodfuel (logwood, chips and pellets) has made profitable and sustainable woodland management possible once more. The pinch-point is the shortage of skilled workers to restore woodland, fell and extract the timber.
KWES will bring woods back into production over a period of time using a rotational coppicing system in accordance with a Forestry Commission management plan.
None of our work would be possible without the support of funding organisations who take a close interest in our work and support us principally by providing funds to pay for capital equipment and running costs. A list of those funding organisations that support us can be found here.
Retail and Distribution Outlets
Although still in its infancy we are selling an increasing amount of woodland products to the general public, retail outlets and distributors. We expect this to become a growing revenue stream for KWES which will help fund more apprentices and make us less reliant on charitable donations.
KWES helps other charitable organisations and local authorities to maintain their ancient woodlands. At present we help with Gorham and Admiral Community Woodlands at Bicknor in the Kent North Downs AONB, owned by The Cromarty Trust, The Royal Botanic Garden Kew at Wakehurst Place, Horish Wood at Detling owned by Detling Parish Council and Holly Hill near Vigo owned by Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council. All these beautiful woodlands are open to the public providing wonderful natural areas for both local residents and visitors from further afield to enjoy.
About Ancient Woodland
Kent is one of the most densely wooded counties in the UK. Our woodlands were once the main energy source for a number of industries. Wood coppiced from them supplied products over many centuries for coal mining, Kent tanneries, smelting iron and paper making. When most of these industries disappeared so too did the woodland workers. Today there are very few left in Kent and the UK.
Ancient woodlands have been around for many centuries – long enough to develop as ecosystems that are rich, complex, and irreplaceable.
The definition of ancient woodland is it must have been in existence since before 1600AD (1750AD in Scotland). This is when good maps began to be available, and pre-dates the time when tree planting became common. Some ancient woodland may even link back to the original woodland that covered the UK around 10,000 years ago, after the last Ice Age. Ancient woodland covers only around 2 per cent of the UK land area of the UK and much of it is under threat as it enjoys no statutory protection.
Ancient woodland has developed over such long timescales that they have many unique features such as relatively undisturbed soils and communities of plants and animals that depend on the stable conditions ancient woodland provides, some of which are rare and vulnerable. They are also living history books, with features such as medieval boundary banks, charcoal hearths, and old coppice stools, that tell us how woodland was used over the centuries.
Ancient woodland are a delight to visit. Some produce spectacular displays of spring flowers – carpets of bluebells, bursts of wood anemones and celandines in spring. Abundant fungi can point to undisturbed soils. Other ancient woodland indicator species include Ramsons (wild garlic), Dog’s Mercury, Yellow Archangel and certain grasses and sedges which can be harder to spot. Once lost ancient woodland can never be replaced.
Woods planted or growing up today will not become ancient woodland in 400 years’ time because the soils on which they have developed 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.
If we lose what little we have left then it is gone forever, so we need to ensure no more ancient woodland is lost. We also need to protect vulnerable ancient woodland wildlife by creating new woodland and other habitats around the remaining fragments of ancient woodland to shield them from the effects of neighbouring land use. And we need to create more spaces for wildlife in the wider landscape to link between the remaining fragments of ancient woodland.