Doc’s tips to spruce up woods

Rossendale man has been unofficial keeper

Hero image

A conifer woodland planted with government funding in the 1980s but never utilised for timber is set to become Wildcraft Woods, a 15-acre site to serve the community of Rossendale.

For five years the unofficial keeper of the woods, Danny Entwistle, 35, has been managing and nurturing the space and hopes to sow a seed site – a template that will be replicated across the country so that these non-native Norwegian spruce woodlands begin giving back to the community.

Forest craft

When his younger maternal half-brother lost his father suddenly nine years ago, Entwistle started taking him out to explore the natural world to help him cope with the loss. Den building became plant recognition, forest craft, then foraging, and after each weekly trip, he rewarded his 20-year younger sibling with a £1 coin when he could recall what he had previously been taught.

That was the start of Doc Wildcraft as Entwistle, originally from Bacup, is now known – because he documents rewilding and forestry craft activity.

His passion is to turn the abandoned spruce plantation on the moors above Marl Pits in Rawtenstall into a community haven where people can learn about nature, wildlife and forest craft, and the great outdoors.

Entwistle, 35, said: “The Norwegian spruce trees I care for are up to 40ft high. They are densely packed and grow straight and tall as they compete to get the light. The soil is useless as the trees have sapped all the nutrients and the needles they shed do not create natural leaf mould, so nothing is being put back in the ground. Even the worms don’t turn the soil.”

Many people walk through the woodland, and photographs aplenty appear on social media as the views along the regimental corridor of spruces are stunning.

Entwistle said: “I have been unofficially managing the woodland for five years now, opening up paths by removing some of the trees to create walkways.

“When you enter the wood it becomes dark and feels otherworldly with its linear man-made design and absence of a green carpet at your feet. Everything inside is an unsettling shade of brown.”

Right of way

Although not the legal land owner, Entwistle was accepted by the Planning Inspector as the legal occupier of the land after an appeal was upheld into a change of use enforcement notice made by Rossendale Council.

“The trees that I have felled have only been removed along the public right of way in order to preserve this legal access route across the site. It is an offence for a landowner not to maintain the public right of way and people, whoever they may be, have a legal right to cross through that land,” said Entwistle.

Now he is in the process of making five “elemental hubs” – earth, fire, air, water and spirit.

“Each hub will work with the land and its natural features and involve creatives and artists to add a bit of mythology to the forest.”

Entwistle won a John Muir Award, which encourages awareness and responsibility for the natural environment, after his proposals for the woodland were accepted. He outlined how he wanted to run forest school activities, manage the woodland, utilise the forest’s natural gifts for foraging and promote education and awareness.

He said: “Sites exactly the same as this one are all over the UK and were paid for by the taxpayer. It was a proper waste of time and money and now the land is unusable for any other agricultural means.”

Wildcraft Woods has also been accepted as a We Are The ARK project. Standing for “acts of restorative kindness”, this is an ecological project aimed at raising awareness of the need to create safe havens for all creatures. It encourages others to give land back to nature and grow sustainable food. It also supports people, schools and organisations to let gardens and public land become wild.

The former student at St Theodore’s in Burnley was excluded in year 9 and learned to teach himself, by reading every book he could, and he developed a love for the outdoors.

‘Like Robin Hood’

After working for 10 years in IT and the music industry, he learnt how to run projects on a shoestring – good experience for the woodland project, which he is funding mostly on goodwill, running Doc Wildcraft walks, selling tinctures made from foraged plants to Manic Organic farm shop in Ormskirk, and working in a petrol station one day a week.

“I want to be a bit like Robin Hood,” he said. “This forest has been left by the rich landowner. Now, along with the community, I want to pick it up and help them to make it their own woodland.”

No specific data was available from the Forestry Commission as to how many woods like the one in Rawtenstall are still in existence.

However, a spokesperson said: “Woodland restructuring can deliver a wide range of social, economic and environmental public benefits and we welcome such proposals providing there is no loss of woodland area.

“We will continue to engage with landowners to support measures to increase woodland management and creation levels across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025, as well as seeking to protect all existing woodlands.”

Entwistle is documenting his progress on the woods in a series of videos on YouTube and also through his Facebook page Doc Wildcraft.

Interact: Responses to Doc’s tips to spruce up woods

  • JD
    20 Jul 2021 16:42
    Danny has worked tirelessly to breathe life back into this woodland as well as educating people that this man made monoculture isn't actually nature at work. Lots more wildlife up there now as well as young families exploring. Keep up the good work.
  • Looking after the woodlands – all in a day’s work | Catherine Smyth Media
    18 Jul 2021 17:12
    […] wrote freelance story that was used in the Big Issue North and also a shorter version for the Rossendale Free Press, which was also used on Lancs […]

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.