Conservation work starts with lowland clearance in Sheffield

For some people, felling trees is a deeply sensitive issue. Less so for excited teenagers with hand saws.

Thursday, 17th March 2016, 13:21 pm
Updated Thursday, 17th March 2016, 13:21 pm
The Orchard Fund group working on Wadsley Common: Hassan-Ali Ismail supervising Moustafa at work

“Watch out – I mean, ‘Timber!’” cried one such teenager on Wadsley Common last weekend. Several more grabbed the fallen silver birch and hauled it onto a waiting pile of saplings.

“I’m very chuffed, and satisfied,” said John Robinson of the Wadsley and Loxley Commoners. “It’s been such a positive day, and I’m amazed at how many trees have been cut down.”

The Orchard Fund group working on Wadsley Common: Yasir and Najiyah remove a tree

“I’m really pleased we’ve been able to help with this conservation work,” said 14-year-old Omar Sorour. “It’s good to be outside, and helping the local environment.”

Wadsley Common is theoretically a ‘lowland heath’ – an increasingly rare global habitat, loved by many rare insect species, lizards and birds. A fifth of the world’s remaining lowland heaths are in Britain, but are under threat and in poor condition, often through lack of management, according to conservationists.

“In the past the common was managed almost by default,” said commoner Alan Bailey, referring to the tradition of coppicing and wood-gathering over hundreds of years. “But the heathland that people remember has been disappearing beneath bracken and scrub.”

The only way to keep at least some of the heathland at Wadsley and Loxley is to remove scrub trees to allow heather to return, a job that is now reliant on volunteers due to cutbacks in the council’s own services, said Alan. “In the past groups like us used to support the rangers. Now it’s the other way round.”

The Orchard Fund group working on Wadsley Common: the group at prayer before resuming work

The commoners were joined on one of their regular working days with Sheffield Conservation Volunteers by 25 members of The Orchard Fund, a local charity supporting young people based around a youth club at the U-Mix Centre in Lowfield, who were on their second scrub-clearing visit to the common.

“Last year I wasn’t sure how the kids would take to it,” said Orchard Fund volunteer Kaamil Farooqi. “But they enjoyed it so much. They each took a small log as a souvenir and most of them still have their logs at home.”

Vice-chair of the fund, Hassan-Ali Ismail, said the event provided more than a chance to get out into the fresh air and conserve the local environment for inner – city teenagers.

“Cutting down a tree is about working together and problem solving, it gives the older youths the chance to take leadership and help the younger ones, and it gives all of them the chance to interact with other people they’ve never met before.”

The Orchard Fund group working on Wadsley Common: Aliya Remtulla working on a willow flower watched by fellow volunteer Mustafa

The fund is led by students from Sheffield’s universities, and its ethos is to empower young people through challenging activities, from public speaking to community and voluntary work, Hassan said. “At our social enterprise session we looked at issues like starvation, water and gender inequality and how we might solve them, and maybe one of these young people in 10 to 15 years will have a solution to one of those problems.”

The effects of the group’s lumberjack training were clear to see, as they visited the site cleared in 2015. “The silver birch trees had stayed away and the heather was already coming back,” said Dana Wadha, aged 14. “It was brilliant to see what we’d achieved from our work.”

It’s an ongoing task, said the commoners, who are very keen for other volunteer groups to get involved: advice, kit and training are supplied. Future events will allow the public to find out more, added Alan Bailey, with walks, lectures and lots more working days planned.

“We’re also very keen to remind people that Wadsley and Loxley Commons are the epicentre of the Robin Hood legend, and we have a special Robin Hood day planned for the June 19 with archery and more, where everyone is welcome to come along, even Normans.”

The Orchard Fund group working on Wadsley Common:Dana Wadha (right) helping Kaamil Farooqi carry a felled silver birch tree

The attending council ranger counted up to around 400 cleared saplings, and turned over the soil to show tiny clumps of heather and seed waiting to regrow.

“I get gratification from helping these young people to flourish,” said fund volunteer Aliya Remtulla. “They are our future politicians and doctors, our future humanity, and I’d love for them to be kind and loving and giving, and everything you’d expect from society, especially the way society is becoming more selfish and self-centred at the moment. ‘Sowing the seeds for a brighter future’ is our motto.”

Visit http://wadsley-loxley.org or http://theorchardfund.com for more information.

The Orchard Fund group working on Wadsley Common: Yasir and Najiyah remove a tree
The Orchard Fund group working on Wadsley Common: the group at prayer before resuming work
The Orchard Fund group working on Wadsley Common: Aliya Remtulla working on a willow flower watched by fellow volunteer Mustafa
The Orchard Fund group working on Wadsley Common:Dana Wadha (right) helping Kaamil Farooqi carry a felled silver birch tree