Wooplaw weekend party

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WOOPLAW is becoming one of the first woods in the country to launch an app.

The first community woodland in Scotland celebrates its quarter-century at the end of the month.

And the volunteers will launch an app for smartphones with which you can download in its entirety, giving information on the 55-acre woodland, how it came about and interviews with some of its pioneers.

Local MP and Secretary of State for Scotland, Michael Moore, will attend the celebrations on Saturday, September 1, along with around 100 members of the Community Woodland Association, which is holding its national conference at St Boswells.

Also new for the birthday party are a new walking trail and new barbecue shelter.

The late wood sculptor and furniture maker Tim Stead brought Wooplaw about in 1987, selling individual wooden axeheads to raise money.

With grants from WWF and the Countryside Commission, he bought the land, half of which was fields. Volunteers planted thousands of trees. The Sitka spruce trees already there were harvested. They dug ponds and built a thatched roundhouse and a toilet.

Now the woodland has four distinct areas, various buildings, ponds, a stream, paths, sculptures and three circular trails which take about half an hour to walk.

Latest developments in time for the 25th birthday include the Jubilee Trail in Gullet Wood, with gravel and timber for the path paid for by a £1,000 grant from Scottish Borders Council’s Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Fund.

A £10,000 grant from the Toddleburn wind farm’s community fund has gone on buying two marquees, the WoopLore app, more picnic tables and woodland infrastructure for the weekend and in the long term.

People will be able to download WoopLore in the carpark (or from the Wooplaw website before they leave home) and it will provide about 30 different lots of information.

Mr Fleet said: “If you’re walking through and stop, it will give you information about the woods and a lot of it will be verbal rather than having to stand and peer into the phone. It will give a sense of place.”

It’s one of the first projects of Stow-based LocusFocus which has donated a lot of its work to the woodland.

The weekend of celebrations starts with bat-watching at 8.15pm on the Friday night, followed by moth hunting, then stargazing with the Edinburgh-based Dark Sky Scotland.

Chairman of the Wooplaw committee, Bob Fleet said: “We chose Friday, August 31, because it’s a full moon, but it’s also the second full moon in August, so it’s a blue moon.”

Dark Sky Scotland’s Dave Chalton visited the site last week and, said Mr Fleet: “He thinks there is a good area for observation of the moon and will have telescopes and binoculars.”

Each of the four areas in the wood has been given over to various activities: there are arts heritage type information and activities in one, education and wellbeing in another, information and demonstrations on working woods in another and eco-diversity in another. Easter Park will be a bushcraft camp for the weekend and there will be drystone walling at Axehead Pond and a camp fire gathering on both Saturday and Sunday. And there will be teepees and storytellers on both nights.

Mr Fleet, a former lab manager at the Borders General Hospital, has been involved with Wooplaw for the last 20 years.

He explained: “There’s a feeling of being out in the woodlands which is different to being in a city, it’s not having concrete under your feet.

“Initially it was a total change from the way I was working, in high tech. Also there’s a lot to the wood – we now have four different areas so it’s not all the same and it feels totally different. There’s also a lot of maintenance so the activity [of looking after the wood] comes into it and there’s a feeling of achievement in keeping it going.

“Lots of people use the wood – schools, health groups, volunteers, some to work and some just to go out into the woods,” he said.

He and other volunteers were rushing to finish the new barbecue shelter they’re building to replace the last 20-year-old one which had started to decay. Boards for it were being cut from Scots pines from the bottom of Wooplaw’s Big Wood last week.

Mr Fleet does not know how many people to expect at the end of the month.

“We hope to get a new group of people who discover woodland. They might just come up for this event and see there are various things you can do at the wood – we’ve got education, fitness, heritage and woodworking, including spoon carving and bowl carving

It’s part of our heritage: Scotland used to be covered in woodland, we were part of the Ettrick Forest here – most of the Borders was – and it’s something that’s changed. It’s now seen as arable land, Scott’s country, open heather and sheep, but that’s not how it used to be ... it’s just nice being back in the woods.

The wood turner and pole lathe operator added: “A highlight for me over the last 20 years was probably one day when we found about 150 people in Wooplaw – Earlston High School doing S7 practicals, Border Forest Trust with a primary school from Kelso, Perth College with their pre-army cadets and the Galashiels Camera Club on a day out photographing the woods

“It’s two words: ‘community’ and ‘woodland’, community is half of it. When you see that happening it’s nice.”

For more information visit www.wooplaw.org.uk