The Outwoods (Green Flag)

Charnwood Borough Council

For people going down to the Outwoods in Charnwood, at certain times of year there is an extremely picturesque sight. Instead of tractors clearing the woodlands, there are teams of horses —
gigantic shire horses — dragging huge conifers out of the woods.
The Outwoods scheme has won a Green Flag Award for its environmentally innovative and sustainable way of improving the woodlands. The scheme helps the environment and it pays for itself. Charnwood is an area that borders the town of Loughborough in Leicestershire. In the Second World War, large quantities of native trees were felled to meet the need for timber. After the war, these were replaced with conifers. Local councils and conservationists are generally agreed that these should be taken down and replaced with local species. The Outwoods scheme is helping to achieve that aim.
Charnwood Borough Council’s wildlife officer Mark Graham says the initiative is extremely popular. However, he adds: "A lot of people are opposed to cutting down any trees. If they can see that this is being done in a sensitive way and for a good reason, they will support it." The trees are replaced by sessile oaks, usually grown from local acorns.

The council is also allowing trees that have self-seeded to grow to maturity.

The felled trees are removed by horses — cobs or Belgian bravants up to 17 hands high. They can be used singly or in pairs. The horses are provided by the British Horse Loggers Charitable Trust.

There are many advantages of using the horses to remove trees. The horses cause less damage to the woodland floor than tractors and tractor tyres do when they churn up the undergrowth. The horses are quiet and they attract visitors. The council always advertises the dates on which the horses will be working. According to Graham, around 100 people a day will come to see the horses at work. In addition, there are school parties and it gets coverage in the local media. "We get a lot of visitors. We get children coming up to take photos and we get old people who might have worked with horses in the past. It’s a wonderful thing to see," he says.

A small portion of the timber is used for construction projects but the majority is used for making charcoal. The logs are chopped up and put in a traditional charcoal kiln. The charcoal is sold by the council and also through local supermarkets. It burns better than most commercially available charcoal because it is fresh and does not get the chance to absorb much water.

Most significantly, the scheme has been sponsored by firms that want to offset their carbon emissions. For example, one of the sponsors runs a fleet of chauffeur-driven Mercedes cars and by sponsoring the Outwoods, the firm can claim to be carbon neutral. Graham concludes: "It gives them positive publicity. The companies can put the scheme in the company newsletter. It helps them and it helps us. It’s a scheme that benefits everyone."

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