What's behind the green revolution in Andover
PUBLISHED: 16:22 17 October 2016 | UPDATED: 16:22 17 October 2016
Andover's environment has had a boost. Viv Micklefield discovers what's behind the green revolution and a project that's really taken root
Waking-up on a misty autumn morning, as the sun breaks through to reveal nature’s wondrous cloak of many colours, what could be nicer than taking a stroll through a local wood with fallen leaves crunching underfoot and bird song overhead. Sadly, in these times of global deforestation, it’s becoming a diminishing experience - which is why the trees in Harmony Woods, Andover stand like beacons of hope in this small corner of Hampshire.
Planted just five years ago, the project is an off-shoot of the Andover’s Transition Town campaign, a community initiative designed to reduce the town’s dependency on fossil fuels by raising awareness of climate change and helping to build resilience using the resourcefulness of local people.
“We all felt that there was a need to do something to change the way we were living,” says local accountant Liz Scrace, one of the founding members of this particular Transition Town group which was formed in 2010.
“There were a number people already involved in trying to reduce the carbon footprint, some came from the Test Valley group of Friends of the Earth, some had been involved with the Christian Ecology Link, but mostly it was new people,” observes Liz. “There were originally 12 of us in the Transition group, aged from 30 to 80 years and from all sorts of backgrounds.
“We looked at what we could do in the area and one of the early ideas was to have community food growing projects. So we found somewhere to plant an orchard and somewhere else to cultivate herbs. We also got involved in the Insulate Hampshire scheme, to provide loft insulation to houses without it, and worked with Hampshire County Council to identify these homes.”
So how are such projects funded?
“We’ve had a small amount of money from Test Valley Council and the Transition Network,” she explains, “But a lot of the work needs to be done very cheaply with people giving their time for free. And many of them have volunteered during the past two or three years to help Andover Trees United.”
Launched by former teacher Wendy Davis, a fellow member of the local Transition Town group, the Andover Trees United venture, known as Harmony Woods, gained national recognition after becoming a winner in the 2015 Observer/Guardian Ethical Awards (Ecover Young Green Champions category).
“What I mourned was the loss of natural green space,” says Wendy. “I wanted there to be more grass underfoot so you could walk along natural pathways and under trees. As well as spaces where children could run around, build dens and climb branches - all the sorts of things that we used to be able to do. I’ve used outdoor learning in the past, looking at climate change and the important role that trees play in mitigating this, to teach about the environment and sustainable development.
“One charity, the Earth Restoration Service, has a very simple and effective idea: you give children small trees which they plant at their school, they look after them for a short while after which the trees are dug up and the same children plant them in a public place, as a ‘gift’ to the community.
“The thinking was that if I could get the support of most of the local schools, find the land, and involve national agencies doing the same thing, we could plant a wood in Andover. Easy!”
In fact, it took all of Wendy’s tenacity to pull this off and to begin the decade-long project (www.andovertrees.org.uk). The first trees, known as whips, went into 17 schools in November 2011, coincidentally, the International Year of Forestry, where volunteers helped build nursery beds. A year later, those saplings were planted within seven acres licensed from Hampshire County Council which in turn, had purchased a pocket of farmland from the Trinley Estate to create the town’s Diamond Jubilee Wood.
“Ours is a wood within a wood,” laughs Wendy. “So far, there are already around 4,000 trees planted including up to a dozen different species of Oak, Ash, Silver Birch, Lime, Hazel, Hawthorn and Rowan. We now have 25 schools involved in the annual two-week planting programme each November, and anyone who’s free to come and help the youngsters, aged between six and 18 years old, is invited to join in.
“Since 2014 trees have been tagged with the children’s names so they can find them in the years to come. We also offer the opportunity to plant a tree as a memorial or a celebratory tree, and provide certificates and maps to locate these.”
But it doesn’t stop here. Over the course of the year, several hundred volunteers from local youth groups to residents and businesses get involved in maintaining and enhancing the woodland, accessed off Anton Lane. More recently, visitors will have noticed a new wildflower meadow in the shadow of a Bronze Age burial mound. And, following an archaeological investigation organised by the University of Southampton, there are plans afoot to dig a wildlife pond. These additions, together with a permanent study base made possible by the £6,000 Ethical Awards’ prize money, will encourage everyone to spend more time in Harmony Woods, come rain or shine.
And Wendy’s passion for preserving the planet has seen dozens of Andover’s youngsters also becoming so-called climate justice ambassadors - with the result that many more trees have been planted alongside everything from modern housing developments to ancient footpaths. As she says: “It’s about bio diversity and creating a place of beauty. By engaging with a whole new generation, this brings the town together to understand the importance of environmental stewardship.”
“Local people are enthusiastic,” confirms Liz, adding: “With a population like ours that moves in and out of the area, it’s not always easy to maintain a group approach - many of us however do try to lead a greener life.”
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