Here at Lockhart Garratt, we are always happy to get involved in any initiative that involves preserving woodland for generations to come. However, the opportunity to steer a strategy and also be actively involved as volunteers to manage ancient woodland close to our company’s Northamptonshire base means the Corby Woodland Project is an initiative that is particularly close to our hearts.
What is the Corby Woodland Project?
The Corby Woodland Project began as a mitigation scheme for the major redevelopment of Corby town centre. While it was a great boost for the town to receive a much-needed upgrade including state of the art new leisure facilities such as The Cube, which houses The Core Theatre and the library, Corby East Midlands International Pool and the Savoy Cinema, it was important that these urban improvements didn’t come at the expense of sacrificing or compromising Thoroughsale & Hazel Woods, the 75 ha of ancient woodland and grassland that Corby is lucky enough to have at its heart. The need for a management strategy for the woodland was particularly important for two reasons:
- Thoroughsale & Hazel Woods are part of Rockingham Forest’s ancient woodland where royalty used to hunt and is estimated to date back to 800 AD.
- Regardless of historical importance, it is extremely rare for a small town like Corby to have ancient woodland of this size at its heart, so finding a way to protect and preserve it, at the same time as making it a usable asset for the residents presented many unique challenges.
When the plans for the town centre were unveiled, The Woodland Trust objected on the grounds that a small area of the ancient woodland would be lost. Therefore, one of our key roles at the start of the project was to work with the parties to effectively manage the conflicts and develop workable solutions to support Corby to effectively and sustainably manage the precious woodland, which had suffered from a lack of coordinated management for many years. Our extensive experience and trusted relationships across the sector, in particular with the Forestry Commission and Woodland Trust, were critical in helping to deliver a robust and workable solution.
Sourcing funding to create a legacy
As always, nothing could be done to ensure the woodland could be managed and maintained as a sustainable public open space within the heart of the community until the necessary funding was secured. At the beginning, the project received a substantial grant from the Homes and Communities Agency. Lockhart Garratt produced a long-term woodland management plan, securing community buy-in through a series of public consultation events to align its priorities with those of the town. Through this structure, we were able to secure funding for a wide range of works including access improvements and habitat improvement works under the Forestry Commission’s Woodland Improvement Programme.
Working with the community
Of course, money is useless without people with the expertise and willingness to carry out the hard work on the ground. Luckily, as well as having the active participation of Corby Council, the Friends of Thoroughsale and Hazel Woods took an active interest. One of the first tasks was to help get on top of many years of accumulated litter and fly tipping and to do this we helped to facilitate an initial ‘deep clean’ of the woodland, supported by Kier Street Services, Corby’s open space management contractor. This resulted in the removal of over 27 tonnes of rubbish that had built up in the woodland over the years, blemishing the landscape and threatening the natural habitat. More importantly, it allowed the Friends of Group to focus on more positive and proactive woodland management tasks such as the setting up of an outdoor classroom (funded by Marks and Spencer) and habitat management works such as coppicing and ditch reinstatement.
As well as giving a technical perspective to the project, Lockhart Garratt staff continue to support the Friends of Group and regularly run a ‘green gym’ where we undertake coppicing, pruning and chainsawing, as well as assisting the council’s successful firewood enterprise, which brings a source of sustainable funding back to the project.
A local success story
Benefits of the ongoing project have so far included:
- The regeneration of the town centre provided the catalyst to bring the woodland back into much-needed active management, and it is now promoted as ‘Corby Central Park’.
- An extensive infrastructure of new surfaced and multi-user pathways in excess of four miles has been created, resulting in a hundredfold increase in the number of people using the woodland for informal recreation.
- Several rides (linear trackways that provide access) have been opened up, providing safe and useable access for local residents.
- Thoroughsale & Hazel Woods have been given the Green Flag Award eight times, including in 2019 – this international accolade is awarded to the best-managed and highest-quality green spaces open to the public. Furthermore, it has received the additional Green Heritage Site Accreditation, run by the Green Flag scheme, in recognition of the effective and sustainable management of this historic site.
- In addition to the Green Flag Award, the woodland has also received the national Green Apple Gold Award, the Pride in Northamptonshire Award and the Spirit of Corby Award.
Impressively the combined efforts of the council, community groups and local businesses in maintaining and protecting the site means that anti-social behaviour is minimal, which is highly unusual for woodland in an urban area.
What’s next for the Corby Woodland Project?
Lockhart Garratt are looking forward to continuing to provide high-level technical advice and practical support on the ground as the project evolves into the new decade ahead.
Plans for the coming years include:
- Continuing to make sure the woodland is well managed and sustainable.
- Ensuring the enthusiasm and momentum of the volunteer groups are maintained.
- Creating a new source of revenue for the project with the sale of timber.
- Encouraging more businesses to get involved in the project and making sure the public and educational groups continue to enjoy this valuable green space to the full.