Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust

Offwell, East Devon

Volunteer • Full Time 07749086968 Vernon Whitlock

Sectors: conservation & wildlife

Closing date: Not specified, apply soon!

Background and History
Offwell Woodlands is a Forestry Commission (FT) Enterprise Site in the Parish of Offwell near Honiton in East Devon. The site was created and is managed by The Offwell Woodland and Wildlife Trust, a registered charity no 1000198.

The Centre which was built by The Trust in partnership with the FC is leased from the FC on a 20 year lease (9 years remaining).

The Centre covers 20 hectares (50 acres). It was probably cleared of woodland in ancient times. It is likely that most of it was covered in heathland before part of the site was converted into pleasure gardens for Bishop Edward Copplestone in the 1830’s. At the time rhododendron shrubs were imported and planted throughout the gardens. As time passed the gardens became neglected and the highly invasive rhododendron took over, leading to a gradual degeneration of the site.

Work to restore the site started in 1986 and it has been converted into an area of great ecological significance. The rhododendron has been brought under control and many different habitats were created specifically to meet the need of a wide range of plants and animals. This has led to an increased diversity of plants and habitats within the Centre.

A Canadian style log cabin was built using timber from the site. This provides a classroom/meeting room, tool store, toilet and office. The cabin has mains electricity and telephone. The cabin serves as the main teaching/meeting base, a base for volunteers and the office base for the woodlands.

A separate wooden classroom overlooks the lake and a separate toilet block is located nearby.

In the early years of development, the Centre was highly successful in obtaining funding and in its heyday had 4 full-time and part-time staff. The Centre was regularly used by numerous schools and academic institutions and had a national profile.

However in 2001 the Centre Director and his partner (who was also a member staff) left without notice - leaving the keys and the responsibility for the Centre with the Trustees. The Trustees, with the assistance of a few volunteers and contractors, continued to manage the Centre but the change in the economic climate and the difficulty for schools to conduct out of school activities saw it get to a situation where, despite ongoing hard work by the Trustees, there were only 6-8 school visits a year and few other activities. There was also a lack of engagement with the local and nearby community.

At the end of 2015 the Trustees had reduced to three members. Two new Trustees were recruited following an appeal and this was done with the clear intention of reviving the Trust and promoting the woodland and its facilities to the wider community.

Current Situation
There are currently 4 trustees, including 2 who have been with The Trust since the beginning and are now wishing to relinquish the role.

The Trust does not currently employ any paid staff. It has financial reserves and receives annual funding from Natural England in the form of Higher Level Stewardship payments. These currently cover the annual expenses of The Trust.

Over the past two years an enormous amount of work has been carried out on the site by a small dedicated group of environmental volunteers. As well as work managing the habitats, the log cabin has been given a much needed refresh and the lakeside classroom and toilet block have been brought back into use with the classroom being used regularly by the village Primary School.

There is a good working relationship with The FC and we are establishing constructive relationships with East Devon Countryside Services and other local community and environmental groups who are looking to use the site.

We have a new website and Facebook page and are looking to increase our online presence to promote what the site can offer.

Plans for the future
Following a refresh of onsite facilities and online presence we are looking to to the future to;

a. Increase the visibility of the woodlands and facilities online.

b. Increase the visibility of the woodlands within the local and wider community.

c. Increase the visibility of the woodlands within the education and academic community.

In the past The Trust employed full time education staff who delivered training. The current situation is that the The Trust provides the site and facilities and that if required, we can joint fund facilitators and trainers using education payments from Natural England.

The need for new Trustees
The current Trustees are looking for 2 or 3 new people to join them in 2017/2018. We are looking for people who have the following skills and experience:

  • Publicity and communications, including digital media. Whilst we have a good face-book presence and new website in development, we know that we could get our message to a much wider audience and engage with more people. It would be really helpful to have a Trustee who is keen to keep the website updated, who likes to use social media to promote news and activities, and who can help us bring Offwell W&WT to people who want to come and visit, learn with us or volunteer.
  • Outdoor Learning and Environmental Education. We want to promote learning about nature within nature and have a wonderful place from which to do this. To make the most of what we have it would be very helpful to have a Trustee who could shape this area of our work, developing small projects, liaising with schools and organising session workers to run events.
  • Finance and Treasury. We are a small charity, and none the less have accounts that need keeping up to date and returns to be done. This is not a big role (yet!) and would be best carried out by someone who already has experience of small charity accounting, and can help keep us well informed.
  • It would be helpful for all new Trustees to have some experience of meetings, understanding budgets / accounts and time to give as a volunteer on site.

Please mention when responding to this ad.