Sophie van den Bergh
This time a year ago, I was sitting at my desk for the first time in Fineshade Wood thinking how lucky I was to have an office in a woodland and wondering what my new job would be like, who would I meet and how the project would come to life? A year on, I can report….
2023 was a fascinating year, when I got my feet under the table, developed an understanding of the various elements of the project, as well as meeting so many people who live, work and play in the Rockingham Forest.
So, what has my job entailed? I always think it’s interesting to know what a job actually involves. You know my job title, Project Officer, but what does that mean on a day-to-day basis? If I was going to describe it in a few words, I’d say varied, diverse, and busy! I love the fact that no two days are ever the same.
The variety comes in the many different “hats” that I need. For instance ,on any given week I could be:
meeting with one of the parishes and friends' groups to support their Nature Recovery Plan,
researching funding opportunities for nature recovery for local landowners,
delivering a best practice session for Forest School trainees,
posting on our social media sites,
visiting a quarry site,
setting up and delivering our community grant scheme,
helping to organise and run our partner's walks, talks or courses on a wide range of topics for people in the Rockingham Forest.
It’s certainly never dull!
I’m not always at my desk and really enjoy getting out and about in the Rockingham Forest.
Here I am in Old Sulehay Nature Reserve clearing scrub on some beautiful grassland.
A couple of highlights this year for me were supporting Hugh and Carolyn of Hazel Woodland Products to run two courses, one on traditional charcoal making and the other on hazel coppicing. I learnt so much about managing woodland, both sustainably and commercially.
I also greatly enjoyed the Forest School Taster Day we offered in the summer in the heart of Corby’s amazing woodland. By the end of the day I had whittled, lit campfires and eaten toasted marshmallows with over 200 people -- that’s a lot of marshmallows in a single day!
Setting up for Forest School in Corby.
It was also great to launch the Parish Nature Recovery Plan element of the project in the early summer at King’s Cliffe Active, where many local parishes and friends’ groups came to learn how the project could support their nature recovery. It was a great turn out as well as a pretty good lunch!
Also I mustn’t forget the trip to a local goat farm, Ganders Goat, where they make delicious ice-cream and soap from goats milk, while farming in harmony with nature.
Some of the goats at the farm near Cottingham
One of the best parts of my job is all the wonderful people I get to meet. I need first to mention my work colleagues at the Nene Rivers Trust – what a kind, collaborative bunch they are – willing to lend a hand and to provide expertise where needed. They are also tremendous fun, and I knew I would fit in when our Christmas Party involved eating pizza and playing the board game LINKEE!
Also, it’s been a joy to work with the most enthusiastic bunch of Forest School Leadership trainees who are committed to bringing Forest School to many children in the area and connecting them to Rockingham Forest.
A day with the Forest School trainees
Then there are the groups of local people I have met who are engaging in making a Nature Recovery Plan, getting together to make a difference to their local patch. These “green champions” have been incredibly welcoming and hospitable, offering me not only help with local knowledge, and some stunning walks in their patch, but also great cake and even the odd glass of wine. Then of course there are those known in the Project as the “Founding Fathers” - who must be named - Adam Cade, Barrie Galpin, Phil Rothwell and Jeremy Purseglove. Their energy and commitment is staggering – thank you for all your support and advice to date. Your combined wisdom is invaluable.
Finally, of course I have had the opportunity to meet so many individuals from all the nine partner organisations that make up the project -- there is such a huge array of characters and of course expertise to tap into. The range of knowledge is so varied and wide, including expertise on;
the Chequered Skipper butterfly,
the hidden “ gems” of the Forest,
local nature recovery strategies,
the Wild Service Tree,
natural flood management.
With all this expert knowledge to hand the project has already been able to deliver a myriad of opportunities for local people to connect to and engage with the landscape and wildlife of the Rockingham Forest.
As we move forward into the second year of the project in 2024, I’m excited to be taking it forward and continuing to be working alongside my colleague, Dr. Corinne Muir and the partner organisations. The core focus this year, is getting a wider audience of people involved in the Rockingham Forest - we need more people to know about this former medieval hunting forest and how they can enjoy, understand, protect and improve it. This will involve even more getting out and about and meeting and evangelising about what the forest and the project has to offer. There will be more walks, talks, courses, workshops, forest school, support and guidance to local communities to help nature recover and build connections to this ancient forest. It’s going to be another busy year but one that I am really looking forward to.
Out walking in the Rockingham Forest with my beloved dog, Mollie.
All the best for 2024,