Scotland's Finest Woods are special places - Angela Douglas

Community woodlands have always been special. Yet their value to our physical and mental health has never been more apparent than the last two years when they have provided fresh air, open space and solace, right on our doorsteps.

A stilt walker leads a group of children walking in the woods at Craigmillar Castle Park
A stilt walker leads a group of children walking in the woods at Craigmillar Castle Park

However, community woods are much more than places to visit. They are very often the heartbeat of a local area, where small armies of volunteers come together to lay paths or plant trees, build and install benches and bird hides, clear rubbish or monitor local wildlife – making these woodlands even more special.

These woodlands help build stronger local communities – and community woods have been central to Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards for more than 15 years.

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The first award, back in 2006, went to Kelty Heritage Trials in Fife and since then, the accolades have been spread far and wide – from East Kilbride and East Lothian to Caithness and even Shetland.

Angela Douglas is Executive Director, Scotland’s Finest Woods

Michaelswood Public Amenity (in Aith, Shetland) won the small community woodland award and the overall Tim Stead Trophy in 2019, the final awards programme before Covid-19 forced us to cancel in 2020.

We were delighted to return in 2021 with two more excellent and diverse winners. The Small Community Woodland Group winner was Laide and Aultbea Community Woodland in Ross-shire, while Craigmillar Castle Park in Edinburgh won the prize for Large Community Woodland group.

We were delighted that Màiri McAllan MSP, Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform, was able to announce the winners. She stressed the importance of woodlands to our well-being in recent times, and highlighted the years, or even decades, of hard work that go into making these woods so special.

That was certainly the case with Laide and Aultbea, with community volunteers putting in almost 20 years of exceptionally hard work since purchasing the woodland in 2003.

The Finest Woods judges were impressed by the “endeavour and enthusiasm” of the local community, which was “heavily engaged in supporting and managing the woodland with tangible benefits in terms of recreation, practical hands-on management and enjoyment.”

It was great to see the judges note the high quality of work in developing footpaths and a wildlife hide on the site.

The volunteering aspect was clear in commended entries, for example in the Small Community Woodland Group at Lochend Woods in Dunbar, where judges recognised a healthy leadership mix of old hands and new voices - not always easy to achieve. The woods are managed by Dunbar Community Woodland Group, which offers a range of activities, including forest playgroup Muddy Buddies, an outdoor fitness group, a new parents’ wellbeing class and Lochend Woods’ ParkRun.

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Judges were glowing in their praise for the Large Community Woodland winner, Craigmillar Castle Park, owned by the City of Edinburgh Council, which works alongside Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspace Trust and the local community to make it a valued resource in the area. It has close links to local nurseries, schools, community groups and social enterprises – allowing people to socialise, connect with nature and improve their health and wellbeing.

Judges said: “The Trust has made excellent progress in engaging with the local community, developing their awareness, understanding and appreciation of Craigmillar Castle Park. It has been notable how valuable the woodland has been to the local community during lockdown, providing an attractive greenspace which has helped with physical and mental wellbeing.”

We look forward to more excellent community woods – and other fine examples of forests, woods and woodland education – entering the awards in 2022. There are also awards for farm woodlands, schools and early years settings, native woods, quality timber, and a Climate Change Champion, awarded for the first time last year to Balbeg Estate, Ayrshire. The closing date is 31st March. Full details here: www.sfwa.co.uk/awards-2022/.

Angela Douglas is Executive Director, Scotland’s Finest Woods

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