How a small group of volunteers help in the management of local authority gardens and woodlands - producing woodfuel as well as other benefits.
Nonsuch Park lies between Cheam and Ewell in a large residential area. It was historically an estate of Henry VIII. The estate is managed by Epsom & Ewell Borough Council and the London Borough of Sutton.
Governance is provided by a joint management committee of councillors and staff from the two councils, and representatives of the Park's three voluntary interest groups.
The committee provides a good example of multiple stakeholder groups working together to achieve a mutual vision.
One of the strategic aims of the Nonsuch Park management team was to establish a volunteer group to help in the park gardens and latterly in the woodlands. In 2011, the Nonsuch Voles group was established as a voluntary association, with the four founding members forming the group’s committee. Today there are over 20 members, although the number fluctuates as people join the group and others move on. The group meets two days a week.
Activities include woodland management, woodland craft and firewood production in the woodlands, and gardening maintenance, pruning and planting in the formal gardens.
The vision for the woodland at Nonsuch is to “bring the woodland to life, making it accessible and sustainable”. The aim has been to increase levels of woodland stewardship at Nonsuch, re-introducing sustainable woodland practices.
Six woodland parcels have been thinned and coppiced over the last three autumns/winters. Over 1,000 Hazel saplings have been planted in these areas to provide future coppice produce. An initial 5 year woodland management plan has been completed and further work on thinning, coppicing and planting over other areas in the woodland will take place.
To monitor the impact of re-introducing management activities in the Nonsuch woodlands, ground flora and butterfly surveys were undertaken by the Nonsuch Voles prior to any work starting in the area. Annual surveys and photographic records have demonstrated a significant increase in the number of species of ground flora and butterflies following the coppicing work.
The Nonsuch Voles make and sell a wide variety of wood products to raise funds, including rustic stools and chairs, and smaller items such as spoons, spatulas and key rings. Kindling is cut by the volunteers from small branches and sold in large net bags.
This complements the firewood sales from the wood yard, which is run by the Park's resident coppice worker, John Armitage. John also provides overall co-ordination of woodland activities, in line with the UK Forestry Standard-compliant management plan.
The Nonsuch Voles engage with the local community and park users on a number of levels. Regular woodland update posters are produced to tell park users about topical items of interest in the woodland and a number of informative woodland walks have been held. A website and Facebook page have also been set up to provide information about the group and their activities. The Voles also attend several local events and fairs where they provide information about their activities and sell items of wood craft.
The wood yard provides a base for interested members of the public to find out more about the woodland activities taking place, as well as to view the wood products created by John Armitage and the Voles.
Education is also at the heart of the Voles operations, with members able to learn gardening and woodland management skills and butterfly and woodland plant survey techniques as well as wood working skills.