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Wemyss Bay Community Woodland Association (WBCWA)
The creation of Wemyss Bay Community Woodland Association
In 2000 local woman, Jill Vedebrand, became increasingly concerned about the neglect and degeneration of local Greenspace, Wemyss Bay Woods. Among the community at large, the wood was developing the reputation as a place where under-age drinkers and drug addicts “hung out”. Vandalism, fly tipping and littering were common. The very dense undergrowth permitted very little light and even dog-walkers, particularly women, were becoming increasingly reluctant to use the wood.
Jill began to talk to other local people, motivating them to take an interest in the wood. In an attempt to raise the profile of the issue and to raise awareness of the environmental impact that a well-managed Greenspace could have, she met with the local Community Association, Inverclyde Council, local schools, other various community groups and relevant conservation and environmental organisations. These efforts involved a Questionnaire being delivered to every home in Wemyss Bay, and culminated in a Public Meeting attended by well over 100 local people in May 2002. Both the questionnaire and the public meeting demonstrated overwhelming community support for a programme of regeneration of the wood. As part of the consultation process, Inverclyde Council, acting through Lower Clyde Greenspace Trust commissioned a feasibility study on the proposed regeneration plans by Tennant Garmory, Environmental Consultants.
At the public meeting it was agreed to establish Wemyss Bay Community Woodland Association (WBCWA), and a core group of volunteers identified to form the committee. At the first committee meeting elections were held for the posts of Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, Treasurer and Secretary. The committee have taken forward and developed the proposals and decisions of the public meeting. All committee meetings are open to members of the community and are publicised in the local press and Village News. In addition the local press has carried regular features and updates on the position and progress of the Association.
The plan for the woods
Using the initial feasibility study, WBCWA designated areas within the woods for specific purposes. In addition to providing disabled parking facilities and wheelchair suitable access to a central glade and seating area, zones were identified for use by the local schools and youth organisations for educational purposes. In these areas children will be directly involved and responsible for the planning, planting and monitoring of the woodland's flora and fauna, and for the construction and erection of bird and bat boxes. WBCWA will be working alongside local authority staff from the Eco-Schools Initiative to provide the support and resources required to develop the educational potential of the wood. By capturing the interest of, and involving, children at an early stage, it is felt that we will be able to retain their interest and enthusiasm as they grow, thus ensuring the future care of Wemyss Bay Wood as a community resource.
What about bikes?
As the local community has developed and grown, over the last thirty years in particular, resources and facilities have not increased to reflect the changing need of the population. There is a clear deficiency of recreation and leisure facilities for teenagers and young people. Use of the wood by mountain bikers was causing erosion and serious deterioration of the paths in many areas. As a consequence of consultation with the young people, a new mountain biking club, “Psyclopath”, has been formed. This will give young people the opportunity to develop their skills, while affiliation to national cycling organisations will provide insurance cover in the event of an accident. Working with WBCWA, Psyclopath has made suggestions for the creation of a family cycle path and a mountain bike course within the woods. The creation of a specific area for the use of cyclists will help minimise any damage to areas designated for general use. In addition we can provide a challenging environment for cyclists of all ages and skill levels. It is anticipated that provision of facilities such as these will increase activity levels, not only among young people but also in entire families, with the positive health benefits that this would bring.
At the outset it was thought that the area between Cliff Terrace Road and the cliff was simply a very steep slope overgrown by dense undergrowth. Initial plans included the clearance of this undergrowth and widespread planting of bulbs and native wildflowers. Further investigations of this area however, have uncovered a series of structured terraces and paths, linked by stone staircases, along with the foundations of assorted glasshouses, ferneries and summerhouses.
It transpires that this area formed the terraced gardens of the Wemyss Castle Estate, family home of the late Lord Inverclyde, and dates back to the 1850s. Discussions are ongoing and advice is being sought on the most appropriate course of action for this area, but present proposals include a long-term sympathetic restoration of the terraced gardens.
WBCWA recognises the current negative view held by a very small minority within the community towards the wood and the activities of the Association. This would appear to be largely due to the use of areas of the wood by under-age drinkers and the perception, although there is no apparent evidence, that drug addicts use the wood. Concerns exist that clearance of any undergrowth will make access easier for undesirable activities. As a means of reassuring the community and discouraging anti-social behaviour, plans are underway to start a Neighbourwoods watch programme. In addition to discouraging anti-social behaviour, the volunteers involved may also have a role in the ongoing monitoring of the fauna and flora. Volunteers will not be directly involved in confronting anyone, but it is believed that their presence through frequent patrols will discourage unwanted behaviour and promote an increased level of confidence and safety in the woods. If there are any ongoing problems the Neighbourwoods watch volunteers will be involved in recording dates and times, and passing this information to the police on a regular basis. The local community liaison officer for Strathclyde Police has been involved in discussions in the most appropriate way for this part of our scheme to operate, and will be giving advice at volunteer training sessions prior to the launch of the patrols.
What happens now?
In order to progress the scheme in an appropriate and sensible manner it has been decided to divide the work into three distinct phases, or projects, with the funds for each part of the scheme being raised separately.
1. Wemyss Bay Woods
Meanwhile volunteers are responsible for removal of the rhododendron, litter collection and general clearance of vegetation on both sides of paths to ensure safe passage. They will also be planting a wide variety of bulbs and wildflowers. If you would like to help see 'Becoming involved' below.
2. Cycling Areas
3. Terraced Gardens
You and your family can become involved in Wemyss Bay Community Woodland Association in a variety of ways.
1. Join the Association.
2. Monitoring Groups.
3. Volunteer Working Weekends.
In the summer the area is likely to be a riot of colour as foxgloves excel in newly cleared land, however they will really only be around in the first year or two until more native ground and shrub-layer plants are re-established. The Association has also already planted over 1000 bulbs and spring plants this year (last year over 1000 snowdrops were planted and they have already flowered), and more planting will take place in coming weeks.
The Association continues to hold fortnightly Rhodi Bashing Sessions and all willing volunteers will be made most welcome. One of the regular volunteers is 93 year old Maurice Dawson, who has not missed a work day in the last year - he puts many of the others to shame! There are also several 5 - 7 year olds who come along regularly with their parents. No matter your age there are ways in which you can participate and volunteer.
In addition to working at weekends, the Woodland Association is hoping to start some weekday sessions and are appealing to anyone who would be available mid-week to put their name on the contact list. Work sessions are held fortnightly on both Saturdays and Sundays. If you are able to help out, even for part of the day, go along anytime between 10am and 3pm to the main entrance to the wood at Ardgowan Road. The Association will provide gloves, some tools and refreshments. All you require is warm and waterproof clothing and footwear and plenty of enthusiasm!
4. Other ways of volunteering.
Getting in Touch
Whether you would like to get more involved with the Woodland Association or if you would simply like more information or the answer to a particular question you can contact us easily by getting in touch with the secretary.
Wemyss Bay Community Woodland Association
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