Why we’re helping a local woodland to win hearts and minds

Marston Vale’s community woodland, close to Woburn Forest, is given a £85k boost We’re giving the Forest of Marston Vale a helping hand of £85,000 to support the creation of a new woodland, Folly Wood at Lidlington. The Forest of Marston Vale is a community forest and environmental project, covering 61sq miles between Milton Keynes […]

Marston Vale’s community woodland, close to Woburn Forest, is given a £85k boost

James Russell, Forest Director of Marston Vale

We’re giving the Forest of Marston Vale a helping hand of £85,000 to support the creation of a new woodland, Folly Wood at Lidlington.

The Forest of Marston Vale is a community forest and environmental project, covering 61sq miles between Milton Keynes and Bedford. The Folly Wood project is one of many new woodlands created and managed by the Forest of Marston Vale Trust and covers 30 acres of land, just a few miles from the new Woburn Forest Center Parcs Village. We caught up with James Russell, Forest Director with the Trust, to gain some insight into the past, present and future of this inspirational mission.

Changing perceptions
“The Forest of Marston Vale is a bit of a well-kept secret; we’ve been busy doing great things for years but we’re not very good at shouting about it!” he says. “In 1991 the area was designated as a community forest by the government, one of twelve in England. The region was in desperate need of regeneration after being home to the brick making industry for more than a hundred years. An obvious physical scar was left on the landscape once production closed, as well as a deeper social and economic one.

“The community forest came with a 40-year vision to repair and rebuild the eroding environmental, economic and social fabric of the Marston Vale, by harnessing the potential of trees and woodland. We’re transforming the landscape to transform the area’s prospects. But changing perceptions is key to achieving this. The industry that previously fuelled the area has stopped, so now we’re trying to regenerate the Vale and create an attractive environment.

“We’re transforming the landscape to transform prospects”

It may come as a surprise to some that the Forest of Marston Vale and Center Parcs have built such a strong relationship, considering the perhaps contradictory function of each business – one being a free, open space and the other being a short breaks destination – but James disagrees.

“There are deep synergies between the business model of Center Parcs and the Forest of Marston Vale; we’re not about preserving the current environment, we’re about changing it for the better using a new ‘forest’ landscape and richer natural environment to stimulate economic benefits.”plants-FMV

James also believes that Woburn Forest will help strengthen the work that the Forest of Marston Vale carries out in the future. “That’s the sole reason why we supported the planning application for Woburn Forest,” he says.

“It was quite rare for us to do this as we’re normally neutral, but we felt there was such a strong fit with Center Parcs as an environmentally focused leisure business. If you want to transform perceptions of an area, I can’t think of a better way than having Center Parcs move on to your doorstep.”

Beneficial relationship
The relationship has already been hugely beneficial in a number of areas. “Center Parcs have used our Forest Centre as their preferred training venue, and giving us their business has helped us to raise money for our environmental work,” James says. “Now, the contribution of £85,000 – a third of the entire budget – has ensured the successful creation of Folly Wood. The funds helped us to plant 16,500 native trees and shrubs; more than 1,000 local people were involved in the planting.

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“The end result will create beautiful, panoramic views across the Marston Vale, which will be a great spot for tourists and local nature enthusiasts. But vitally, it’s great for biodiversity and is a positive addition to our changing landscape.”

“If you want to transform perceptions, I can’t think of a better way than having Center Parcs move on to your doorstep”

As for the future, James is mindful of the government target of having 30 per cent woodland coverage by 2031. Is he feeling confident? “It’s going to be very challenging,” he says. “It is achievable, but it will be difficult to get there with only the current resources. But if you asked me 10 years ago whether we could treble woodland cover to reach 10 per cent I would have said no, but we managed to do it and identified funding to overcome the barriers we faced.”

“Of course, there’s a headline target, but it’s more about winning hearts and minds. We’re changing the perception of the area; its regeneration underpins everything we work for – it just so happens that we’re using trees to do it.”

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Jessica Marshall-Pearce

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Jessica Marshall-Pearce

Since becoming the Woburn Forest Press Officer in 2012 I have had the privilege of spreading the word on our fifth Village, from the planning, construction and recruitment to the nature, local engagement and operations. Get the latest on Woburn Forest with my monthly updates.