Sharing lessons through Sylfaen

A heart-warming project visit concludes our Sylfaen capacity-building programme.

Cynnal Cymru’s Sylfaen Project, funded by the Co-op Foundation, has concentrated on developing the financial and managerial resilience of community-based environmental organisations. In enhancing and preserving biodiversity, providing training and education, and bringing people together, these organisations deliver wide ranging benefits for local communities and society as a whole. It is essential therefore that they are well-managed, financially secure and accountable. In other words, it is in all our interests that they have strong foundations (Sylfaen is Welsh for “foundation”).

Like everything else, the project has had to adapt to cope with the restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic. The training in subjects such as marketing, business planning, use of social media, and governance, has been delivered online by our partner the Wales Co-operative Centre. The plan had been for training to be delivered through a combination of face-to-face seminars/coaching plus online sessions. Networking and peer support were a major component of the project design. While Covid restricted these aspects, the groups within the project have made the best of the opportunities available and we have been grateful for the flexibility and innovation of all partners in adapting to challenging times.

As spring 2021 unfolded however and Covid restrictions lifted, we took the opportunity to meet, visit each other’s sites, learn and be inspired. So it was on a beautiful sunny day in June, that we gathered for the final Sylfaen event, this time on Anglesey with our hosts Melissa and Tim from Llyn Parc Mawr Community Woodland Group.

This was an opportunity to hear more about how the group was established, their approach to woodland management, negotiating with Natural Resources Wales and the challenges that come with running a funded project in the middle of a pandemic! We also had an opportunity to try out some green woodworking skills and hear more about their future plans and aspirations.

After a ‘panad’ (Welsh for a cup of tea), and introductions sat around in the fantastic new timber framed shelter, we headed out for a look around the site – first stop was the new bird hide, both structures were recently completed by a small local business and paid for through their National Lottery Community Fund grant. Most of the timber comes from locally sourced Welsh redwoods, sadly they couldn’t use any of their own recently felled timber as Corsican Pine isn’t suitable for use in structures. They have however made good use of it with the help of volunteers and made benches for the bird hide.

Photo of people in a bird hide.

After spending some time watching the resident ducks, dragonflies, and damselflies we headed off the beaten track on a new path that Tim had been hard at work hacking away prior to our visit. It will form part of the new circular path around the lake and will open up parts of the woodland which have never been accessible before. A boardwalk and small bridge will be installed as this is a much wetter part of the site. Much of this area is broadleaf and adds a new dimension to the forest as Llyn Parc Mawr is mainly a conifer plantation and arboretum and was originally used as the nursery for Newborough Forest. The lake was built in 1988 as part of European Year of Environment and now forms a wildlife haven for an abundance of seasonal wildlife.

After a very adventurous trek through the “jungle” we found ourselves at the back of the woodland where NRW have recently clear felled a small section, the group have started planting here and Tim talked us through the decision process and how the new saplings are faring up in their new home. It was an interesting mix of species which includes Swamp Cypress which will help create a mangrove effect, Red Alder, Tulip trees, Spruce and Scotts Pine. A great mix of nursery trees and nitrogen fixers.

Small frog sitting in the palm of a hand

We made our way back to the shelter in time for a delicious lunch prepared by a couple of Llyn Parc Mawr members. We had time to watch some short films developed as part a social history project documenting the village and community’s fascinating history and includes stories from some of the older residents who remember the marram grass industry and forest development. You can watch for yourselves:

Pobl Niwbwrch a’r Moresg The People of Newborough and Marram grass – YouTube

We were joined for the afternoon by one of Llyn Parc Mawr’s new board members. We split up for afternoon sessions; Tim lead another walk and talk and was a chance to network and ask some more in depth questions on his activities. Melissa led a craft workshop where we made some gypsy flowers using a draw knife and shave horse. It was an enjoyable and relaxing afternoon learning new skills and chatting about future project plans.

Women demonstrating green woodworking skills using a 'shave horse'.

It was a great end to the Sylfaen project – participants have really enjoyed the opportunity to finally meet face to face, visiting each other’s sites and networking. The groups have found many synergies in experiences even though they are at different stages of development there’s always so much to learn and share – from attracting new board members to applying and managing funding, site management, running activities and sharing experiences over this unprecedented year of lockdowns. Perhaps the imposition of lockdowns has in some ways been a blessing; unable to run training sessions or engage with the public, colleagues have had more time to learn, reflect and review. Melissa, for example, has found the social media training very useful. It has helped Llyn Parc Mawr expand their reach and consequentially generate additional income. Having offered Forest School activities on site for a long time, the group is now being contacted by other organisations to run paid-for Forest School sessions on their behalf.

It was great to hear everyone has so many exciting plans and that from the hardships and worries we have all experienced in recent times, now more than ever there is a need and demand for community projects and volunteer opportunities. (We had such a nice time we even forgot to say hello to the resident red squirrels!)

This site visit report was written by Sara Wynne Pari, a local resident and colleague working in the community environmental sector. This illustrates the integrated and collegiate nature of community environmental work: we are united across Wales by a common purpose to halt the decline in biodiversity, address the nature crisis, and create a harmonious future for humans and the species with which we share this wonderful place. One of the key outcomes from the Sylfaen project was the confirmation of the need for community based environmental organisations to strengthen their links and develop an organisational ecology in which mutual interests are shared and practical/economic needs are met through collaboration. In 2021/22 we will concentrate on this and integrate our Eco Literacy work with the legacy of Sylfaen.

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