Climbing trees, building dens and running around in the mud are innocent thrills that evoke childhood memories in most people.
And its these activities, along with a wish to get closer to nature, that has encouraged a team of dedicated volunteers to create a woodland paradise known as The Spinney, near Little Bytham.
Managed and maintained by a charity called the Bythams Woodland Trust, The Spinney offers children and adults alike a chance to experience the best the countryside has to offer, with the freedom to do whatever they want.
But the charity is now preparing to take on an even bigger role. It has been chosen as one of four inaugural champions for the Woodland Trust’s ambitious Charter for Trees, Woods and People.
The idea behind the charter is to put trees back at the heart of people’s lives, communities and decision-making. The charter will be rooted in stories, memories, feelings and principles that show how trees have shaped British society, landscape and people. The Woodland Trust hopes it will help people to recognise the importance of trees in our society, to celebrate their contribution to our lives, and act so future generations can benefit from them.
For Dr Patrick Chandler, who came up with the idea for The Spinney more than a decade ago, it is a huge honour to be selected as a charter champion. He and his team of volunteers will be charged with promoting the charter and making sure everyone in the area is aware of the opportunities offered by woodland and forests on their doorsteps.
Dr Chandler said: “Last year was the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. But there was also a Forest Charter. That was arguably more important than to the average man and woman. It gave the right to ordinary men and women to go into the forest to graze their animals, scavenge for food and water, and without fear of losing their lives.
“It started our love of woodlands and forests.”
That same love can be seen in the work the Bythams trust has put into The Spinney. Originally conceived as a play area linked with the Bythams Primary School, it received £67,000 of funding from the Millennium Commission. After several years of legal wrangling over ownership, Dr Chandler and the trust bought the land from the Grimsthorpe and Drummond Castle Trust, which was happy to sell.
Work began on 2003 and has not stopped since. Among the trust’s completed projects so far are a new car park and access road, a wheelchair and pushchair-accessible path and picnic areas. Several glades have been cleared, and planted with native shrubs and trees. And one of the most obvious changes is the installation of a range of environmentally-sympathetic play equipment, including a zip-wire, slides, swings and a play house.
More recent projects include a living roof and rainwater harvesting system and a sensory garden.
All this has combined to create a space where all ages can enjoy themselves away from the distractions of the modern world. And the years of effort has been recognised with The Spinney’s selection as a charter champion.
Dr Chandler said: “It’s really positive. It’s great publicity for us and we are very keen to work with a lot of people so that they can tell their stories about how they enjoyed themselves. They can support the charter, and when it’s written, hopefully it will have a lot of public support.”
The national charter reflects the ethos behind the Bythams trust’s original idea.
Dr Chandler, who grew up on a farm playing outside every day, said: “It’s wonderful to have areas like The Spinney. A lot of people come from miles around to visit. They come because it’s a great place to play and there’s a freedom to do whatever you like.
“Having the opportunity to get muddy, climb trees and build things is something that kids don’t get these days.
“We think they should do. There are too few places around where you can get back in touch with nature.
“We want to be able to continue to offer what we think is a wonderful community resource.”
The Woodland Trust is working with the Guardian newspaper to promote the charter. Events are planned across the UK over the coming year, and a number of high-profile figures have come out in support of the charter, including musician Emma Lee-Moss, known as Emmy the Great, and fashion designer Zandra Rhodes.
In December a three-hour parliamentary debate was held, in which MPs from all parties spoke of the need to protect the UK’s ancient woodlands and trees.
But it is not just politicians and famous faces who can help protect and promote areas like The Spinney. The Woodland Trust hopes to recruit ordinary people to share their own stories of playing among the trees, and create an army of charter champions across the UK.
There are a number of ways people can share their stories. A dedicated website, https://treecharter.uk, has been set up by the Woodland Trust, which features blog posts and a list of upcoming events which people can get involved in.
There is also a section which calls for people to share their stories. You can also use the hashtag #tree charter on Twitter. Dr Chandler and his team will be at The Spinney working hard as usual tomorrow, and hope to see some new charter champions there with them.
The Spinney has been shortlisted to receive up to £12,000 of funding as part of Tesco’s ‘Bags of Help’ initiative, and needs shoppers to the Tesco stores in Bourne, Stamford and Market Deeping to vote for them to receive the cash. Voting has opened.