Activities, Bluebells and Primroses – May Day at Tortworth Forest Centre

Many families came to Torthworth Forest Centre’s Arbor Fest Day on 1st May. So much hard work during the winter had achieved a transformation since I was there last summer. A year ago what had been impenetrable scrub below trees now had a cleared path to walk through and one can begin to see the shape of the original layout of the arboretum. I reached an amazing old goat willow its branches spread out along the ground with seemingly only a tenuous relationship with their trunk and roots. Many bluebells and primroses are now flowering in a newly cleared open area with even white narcissi braving some brambles. You may remember Rebecca Cork’s piece about plans for the Forest Centre.

The May Day activities were based in this large, newly created open area. The day featured forest school activities, a campfire, tree identification walks and much more including children’s ‘have a go’ activities such as building with wattle and daub. Story time related to the lives of children who had once lived in Iron Age sites.

A surprise was the substantial wooden hut for two contented looking goats. They are to be tethered in parts of the woodland to eat the brambles, bamboo and other unwanted scrub. They proved a great attraction for the children.

Under a shelter in the forest clearing dedicated helpers had set up stalls with the centrepiece being a camp fire; a kettle boiling for tea or coffee and delicious vegetable stew to follow. The cooking was an initiative by a women’s group who come up to the forest every week from Bristol. A small group of women who have overcome addictions; they come to the forest to take part in forest activities, write journals, talk to each other or just to reflect. The calm atmosphere of the forest is therapeutic.

Beautifully finished wooden spoons were displayed with a demonstration of the initial carving of them together with traditional May Whistles, a skill the carver had been taught by her grandfather. Bee the Change have a programme inviting people to sponsor a beehive. They offer training in beehive management and they will set up beehives where people request them. Based in Bristol they are a legacy initiative from the 2015 Green Capital year. Forage and Fire were demonstrating good food to be had on your doorstep. They had very hot wild garlic flower buds to taste though marinated wild garlic leaves I found less strong and much more delicious. Good-to-eat plants and berries are to be found in our hedgerows, woodlands and fields.

It is thanks to Rebecca’s unremitting dedication to the Forest Centre arboretum that so much has been achieved already. We were happy to supply them with the tools they needed and we can see the results in all the cleared areas. She now has funding for five Interns and to quote Rebecca:

“I was lucky to receive money from Awards for All, part of Big Lottery Fund, for a weekly session with five interns for one year starting last April. They learn different aspects of sustainable woodland management as well as carrying out conservation work in the arboretum. They also receive lunch, travel via minibus, and some money for safety clothing. Partners who will be teaching on the internship include conservationists, bat and bee experts, veteran tree experts, woodland managers, wildlife experts and more. We also hope to visit woodlands to see how they are managed.”

Wendy Pollard