When Muddy Puddle Club first began back in 2013 I had big dreams which have, slowly over the years, become reality. Hard work, passion, commitment and the deep knowledge that Forest School can make a significant impact on wellbeing, learning, environments and community.
The session first developed in a small woodland in a local millennium meadow and then, in 2014, I began working at The Vyne, National Trust. This is where Charlie came and joined me for the first time. In 2015 we were invited to start working at Bramley Frith where we have successfully run 3 different sessions for under 6's and a home ed session during the week for the past few years. Not long after moving to the Frith we started thinking about how we could expand our work and start reaching those most in need within our wider communities. This is where the dream to incorporate as a Community Interest Company began and where our hunt for a woodland in the South of Basingstoke, more accessible by public transport, private and usable all weeks through out the year.
We were lucky to be supported by a local man, Paul, who is incredibly passionate about nature and the benefits of self determined woodland play. In 2015, with my daughter, Luna, in a sling whilst I was on maternity leave, Paul and I looked at various sites across the south side of Basingstoke which all turned out to be unsuitable for various reasons. I also looked at woodland for sale, again all unsuitable and prohibitively expensive.
Then, a couple of years ago, I was approached by a local landowner he offered me his woodland in Cliddesden. Upon viewing the site it is clear that it is in very poor condition, covered in Rhododendron and really lacking in biodiversity. What I could also see was a beautiful woodland waiting to be recovered, crying out for some care and a perfect setting for a semi urban Forest School. Just across the M3 from Basingstoke, easily reachable by public transport, parking for parents and carers and a hard standing track through the woods which makes it suitable for our guests with physical disabilities. Perfect.
If you want to use a site for more than 28 days a year then this often requires planning permission for change of use. As this woodland is not owned by us but leased privately, we decided that in order to commit to a long lease we would need the security of change of use planning permission. We started the process for this around a year ago with the landowner and a planning consultant. It was complicated by the fact the woodland is listed as an Ancient Woodland and a SINC (site of importance for nature conservation), although the woodland is in such poor condition that the markers of ancient woodland are minimal and the designation is questionable in its current status.
Fast forward 6 months, lots of money from our pockets and frustration later, the planning officer sadly recommended refusal of our planning permission for change of use. All hope was not lost as the local parish counsellor referred the case to the local Planning and Development Committee. I spoke at the meeting about the woods, our work and Forest School in general. You can watch the video below and read my speech at the very bottom of this post. I am happy to say that the planning committee voted unanimously to go against the officers decision, to take a common sense approach and granted us full planning permission! Yippee!
So this is where the hard work begins. Before we can do anything we need to get an ecologist to write a range of reports so that we can discharge the planning permission. Then we need to complete tree surveys, make the site as safe as necessary and make the parking hard standing usable. This is all before we can begin to remove the rhododendron to start recovering the biodiversity of the woods and develop the space to support the growth of both the woodland and children. Yes it's a challenge, but one we are ready and prepared to take on - we just need your help!
First step, raise funds to pay for the ecology reports and complete the surveys needed. The landowner has kindly agreed to pay half of these fees so for this part we need to raise £750. We then need to pay the consultant and the council to discharge the conditions, which costs £500. Then we need a further £500 for initial tree surveys and making good the car parking area. Of course, in reality, the total costs for preparing the site will go beyond this and if we can raise any extra money for this project it would go a long way to making this dream a reality.
Please consider donating to our crowdfunder, we can't do this without your help! And if you can't donate, perhaps you know a person or a local business who can?
Thank you counsellors for giving me the time to speak this evening. I am Lizzie from muddy puddle club cic. I have been a Forest School leader and trainer, working in a variety of outdoor spaces, including ancient woodland, for the past 12 years.
We have been looking for a suitable woodland in this area for the past 4 years. The site needs to be close to Basingstoke and the surrounding villages and have parking and hard standing to make it accessible for children and adults with physical and special educational needs. Unlike other sites considered, Pensdell woods offers all of this. Additionally, we pride ourselves on choosing sites where we can go beyond sustainability and actively restore biodiversity. The overwhelming presence of rhododendron in this woodlands means that all the work we do to manage and remove this invasive species as part of our programmes will reach that aim for going ‘beyond sustainability’ and actually enhance and recover this woodland.
We would use the space to provide forest school sessions which use play, managed risk taking and child centred strategies to connect learners with nature, including managing woodland spaces, creating and protecting habitats, conserving nature whilst forging life long emotional connections with the natural world. How can we ask people to protect woodlands and our natural world if they have no direct experience of it?
We would also lead woodland management volunteer days and training, provide cpd in forest school and play approaches and I am also qualified to provide a range of accredited outdoor learning vocational training courses for young people, adults and those with special educational needs.
The planning report claims that running forest school on this site will cause significant harm to the woodland. However, Despite offering the biodiversity officer numerous site visits, they have not been to the site and assessed the woodland first hand, but the recommendation is based on this objection.
Conversely, Natural England also reviewed the plans and stated that there would be no significant adverse impact to the Conservation Site or Landscape. They had no objection.
A woodland surveyor from RICS ( Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors) produced a preliminary woodland management plan with detailed information. The tree officer did not comment on these details
I argue that the woodland will benefit enormously from our work there supported by the local community who are already champions of biodiversity. I also argue that consideration should be given to the impact of our long term Forest School programmes which are proven to increase nature connectedness in children and the impact this will have on wider communities and, as a result, their attitudes towards protecting the environment throughout their lives. consideration should be given to the sustainability (environmental, social and economical) that this type of use offers.