We have recently been asked by a couple of customers about training courses for managing woodlands. There are quite a few out there, covering general management, woodland crafts and specific practical skills such as chain-saw operation.
Most small woodland owners are interested in short courses at weekends; the wood is after all a hobby, and you have to work during the week! So we’ve undertaken a bit of research, and have come up with some links and ideas below. We have not had direct experience of most of them, but often know the reputation of the organisation. Any specific feedback or recommendations for other courses are very welcome.
There are a number of organisations running short introductory courses, and your chosen venue may depend on location. Four to look at are:
• Centre for Alternative Technology, West Wales
• Small Woods Association, based in Shropshire
• The Sustainability Centre, in Hampshire
• Field Studies Council in Suffolk
If you are planning to undertake a lot of the management yourself, a chain-saw, training, and a full set of personal protective equipment are all essential. (My chain-saw instructor claimed a saw could produce 10lbs of mincemeat a second!). There are two well recognised qualifications, either via NPTC (The National Proficiency Test Council) or LANTRA (derived from Land Training). There is a maintenance module, basic cross-cutting and basic felling, which will cover trees up to up to 38cms diameter, which are the basics you will need. More advanced modules include windblow, hung-up trees and trees over 38cms diameter. Some employers insist on NPTC qualifications, which are tested by external examiners, whereas LANTRA courses are internally tested, and cover a similar syllabus. So if you are wanting training for your own wood, LANTRA is probably cheaper, NPTC is better of you intend to hire out your services. Many small training companies and agricultural colleges run courses to these specifications, and you will need to find one local to you. In our neck of the woods, if you pardon the pun, three companies we do know and have used are Lynher Training, Kensey Training and Kernow Training.
Another area we are often asked about is tree safety, which we have already discussed under our woodland insurance article. If you have public events in your wood (perhaps down the line for most of you!), then the Arboricultural Association run a basic one day tree safety course. This course is used by the Forestry Commission to train their rangers to undertake tree insections, and while it is expensive, it is the best and most recognised standard around. LANTRA run a similar course to a similar syllabus.
A lot of agricultural colleges also run more general woodland and countryside management courses, although only a few e.g. Plumpton College offer regular short courses. If you want something on a day release basis you are likely to have more choice.
The voluntary or charity sector also offers a range of opportunities, and a good first place to look is your local Wildlife Trust. They organise a range of events and guided walks, and seeing how other people deal with issues in their own woods can be as valuable as a formal training course. You will also find some very experienced Trust members who are often happy to pass on their expertise. The Conservation Volunteers also run many local courses, designed to support local communities working to improve their local environment. I’m not sure about the quality of their web-site for current courses, and you may be best contacting your nearest local office. In a similar vein some areas have local woodland projects or local initiatives; Silvanus are one of the larger such projects, and have been operating in the south west for the last 16 years. Others include the Chilterns Woodland Project, Heartwoods and Coed Cymru.
But there is also a thriving on-line community, and the Small Woodland Owners Group is the most active. After all, what better way than learning by sharing with others on the job?