Gifford Community Woodland comprises Speedy and Fawn Woods at the end of Station Road in Gifford, East Lothian. They were purchased in 2017 on behalf of the whole community, and we welcome feedback or input - you can contact us at any time on

Monday, 30 April 2018

Read our interview with GCLC Project Manager, Nev Kilkenny

There has been a lot going on in Gifford Woods recently.  To find out more about what has been happening and why, we sat down for a chat with Nev Kilnenny - he is GCLC's Project Manager who works part-time to manage the Woods.

Hi Nev, you are the Project Manager for Gifford Community Woodland, so firstly tell us a bit more about how this came about?
In early 2017, the community came together to buy Gifford Woods, with the support of the Scottish Land Fund, East Lothian Council Partnership Fund, Fallago Environment Fund and other sources including donations from many local people.  Part of the funding raised was to pay for a part-time Project Manager – I applied for the job and was lucky enough to get it! My experience of woodlands is mainly in Conservation Management. I also work as a project manager and carpenter. The Management Committee were very keen to draw on that experience to preserve the woods as an asset for the community.

Did you know Gifford Woods already?
Yes, absolutely.  I live just outside Gifford with my family. I am a consultant mycologist/fungal ecologist (having qualified from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in 2009). I knew Gifford woods extensively from our frequent family walks and I have run activities there as a local Cub Scout Leader. However, I also recognised that the woods were an important ancient woodland ecosystem.

There has been a lot of activity already with trees and plants being cut down. Why is that?
The woods hadn’t been managed in recent years, so we immediately had to make safe any dangerous trees and any hungbranches that were near pathways (as they could easily have fallen and hurt someone out walking)
Most of the woodland is either ancient of semi-natural origin or ancient, long established plantation. Due to the lack of management, some non-native species have been allowed to invade large areas of the woodland, Speedy Wood in particular. As a community asset, it’s great that we can take a long-term view to better manage the woods. So we have already removed two small compartments of non-native conifers as many of these were wind-blown and posed a significant fire risk.
Teams of local volunteers have been removing rhododendron which has smothered roughly 4 ½ hectares of Speedy Wood and is beginning to establish itself in some areas of Fawn Wood also. 
I’m pleased to say that we have planted over 2,700 native trees already, which of course will slowly grow to replace the cleared Rhododendron and conifers.

Why have so many cut or fallen trees have been left?
This is mostly deliberate – fallen or cut trees provide a great place for fungi and smaller wildlife to live and grow.  As the ‘bottom’ of the food chain, so to speak, this will help the entire ecosystem of the woods. In particular, large diameter deadwood has become one of the rarest habitats in Scotland as it is nearly always removed and sold to raise capital.
We do still have some tidying up to do though. Now that we are into the spring, the birds are nesting and we are out of the tree planting season, so we will be focusing more on that kind of activity.

Couldn't we sell it as firewood?
We have cut and split some wood, mainly from large sycamores which are non-native and had to be felled because they were unsafe. In the future, we plan to sell some logs as/when we need to remove similar unsafe trees.

What’s next in the plan?
As part of the funding commitment we need to look at ways to make the woods accessible for ALL of our community. We are therefore in the process of planning and applying for additional funding to create an all ability access pathway around both Speedy and Fawn Woods.  This will enable wheelchair users or visitors with buggies to follow a ‘figure of eight’ route right around the woods.
The works needed to prepare for this mean that the Woods might not look as great as normal for a while.  But the Management Committee feels it is important that everyone in our community can enjoy this amazing asset now it is ours, as I’m sure everyone will understand.

Didn’t the community already use the woods – young and old?
A lot of them do, you’re right.  But we know through research that those with accessibility needs found, and still find it, difficult.  The plan allows us to address this.
I’m really pleased about the number of additional children that we have already brought into the woods, many of whom had not been in previously.  Some readers may have seen our ‘outdoor classroom’ (at the very end of Station Road).  We’ve had Years P3 – P7 of Yester Primary in to use that facility already which is fantastic and the plan is to bring P1 & P2 up to the woods in the coming months.  We’ve also had P5 helping out to go towards their John Muir Award, and we’ve hosted a 4th Birthday Party!

What about this outdoor film screening?
Again, we want to open up the woods and encourage all our community to visit and enjoy it.  So from the start, we had planned to work with the great Gifford Film Club to do an outdoor film screening.  It was an amazing day – we had over 120 people there.

All sounds good, how can I get involved or give my thoughts?
We have lots going on. The Management Committee meets regularly to discuss and make decisions which is what sets my agenda as Project Manager, and these are followed by Drop-In Q&A sessions in Lanterne Rouge.  The Management Committee is always looking for more members to join, and our next AGM is in August 2018. 
But you can also contact us at any time to let us know your thoughts – via email, Facebook, Twitter or telephone.  We are also planning an information panel and noticeboard in the woods which will help us let everyone know just what is happening.
This is a community woodland, and we are all especially keen that we engage the whole community in our activities so please do get in touch.

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