Logs for Labour, part of the Oxfordshire Community Woodfuel programme, was designed to provide woodland owners with free volunteer woodland labourers in return for logs.
The initiative aims to involve communities in the management of local woodlands, to show how productive woodlands can be and to promote the use of a renewable and low carbon fuel by stimulating local woodfuel supply chains.
The project, the brainchild of Riki Therivel, has ben running since January 2013. Riki acts as matchmaker between the woodland owners and labourers using social media to advertise those woodlands in need of a volunteer workforce, setting up the activities and working with the woodland owners to ensure that things run smoothly.
Over 25 labour events have been run so far, attracting approximately 25 people to each event. Workers are insured to work with basic hand tools, the logging is small scale and for smaller diameter wood but provides a vital workforce for woodland owners who may otherwise struggle to complete thinning activities within their woodlands.
Riki works closely with the woodland owners to ensure that any harvesting activities are in accordance with the management plan for the woodland, that the risks have been properly assessed and that the woodland owner is confident in dealing with the volunteer labour force. Each group is given a full briefing on working methods and the scope of activities for that session before commencing work. The harvested logs are taken away on the day by volunteers for home storage and seasoning. Potential abuse of the system by larger commercial operations hoping to use the project as a source of free logs is avoided by limiting overall volumes of logs removed from the site or charging for larger volumes if appropriate.
The project has been very successful, with on average five new sign ups for labour each week. The benefits of both working within local woodlands but also generating woodfuel for home use has ensured that this project achieves its overall objectives of reconnecting communities with woodlands and demonstrating their potential productivity.
Some owners were initially concerned about inviting the community in to their woodlands but their fears have largely been allayed as participants in the project have, on the whole, been positive and good natured and have treated the woodlands with care and respect.
The project has produced unexpected benefits in the form of an uplift in volunteering for woodland based activities locally. This clearly demonstrates how projects of this nature can act as catalysts to greater engagement from communities and a growth in enthusiasm for and confidence to take on, woodland management.