Volunteers branch out, at Buckingham's Edible Woodland

The Edible Woodland has come to mean so much more to people in Buckingham during lockdown, says founder John Mortimer

By Hannah Richardson
Wednesday, 9th February 2022, 1:06 pm
Updated Wednesday, 9th February 2022, 1:08 pm

Ten willing volunteers turned up on Sunday afternoon to help create 'branch barriers' for the Edible Woodland project in Buckingham' s Heartlands Park.

Started by Buckingham resident John Mortimer, the Edible Woodland was designed to enable local people to grow edible and useful plants in a natural and sustainable way.

But over the coronavirus lockdowns, the space took on a new meaning for many people, as a place of refuge and contemplation.

Volunteers with the finished structure

This was the first time volunteers had met to work on the Edible Woodland since lockdown, and most of those who turned up on Sunday had never been there before.

The group constructed a 'dead hedge', made up of old branches, to slow the path of floodwater when the River Great Ouse floods and create a habitat for beetles.

Although it was started in 2013, John said the Edible Woodland really came into its own during lockdown.

"Beforehand, it was a thing that a few people knew about who were dog walkers and things like that.

Starting off

"Suddenly during lockdown, many, many people went for walks in the park because that was the only thing you could do, and they came across the Edible Woodland.

"And it was like an island in the middle of sort of barrenness - people would just go there and it would help them with their mental health issues, it would relax them, it would be something different.

"They would just go there and it would be almost like a meditation.

"And that's exactly what it's meant to be - it's meant to be a place where you go that's different, where each person that goes sees it in their own way and takes from it what they wish.

Close-up

"We put a bench up there a couple of years ago and people just sit there and contemplate."

And he added: "Although in one way it's all about the plants and the fruit and what you can get from it, that's not the only part of it.

"It's also about getting together.

"When we were there on Sunday, we just had a laugh.

The branch barrier

"It wasn't about the hedge, it was about just being there together and working out how to do something.

"I've never made a dead hedge before, and no-one there had made one either.

"We just made a pile of twigs and held them all together so it worked.

"It was just something that you did that wasn't about electronics and a screen - it was getting back to just doing something together with a group of people that you hadn't met before.

"It was really fascinating to see people again because, especially with lockdown, that hasn't happened for such a long time.

And lockdown has changed the way people perceive the green space around them, said John.

"That's what people say to me, it's forced us to go out and we've found all these places we didn't know existed, and they keep continuing to walk there, even though they don't need to any more.

"It's really interesting how it's changed our perception - and the point of the Edible Woodland is to change perception."

And he added: "The most interested group is small children - they go there and they just stare at it, and for them it's like an adventure.

"And they go in places that adults don't go - they go behind hedges, they crawl through things, and it's just almost like they've never really done that before, because I don't see children doing that in the park.

"And in the Edible Woodland, there's all these little strawberries to pick, there's little benches for them, there's a little wigwam thing, there's a pile of woodchips - it's kind of an adventure playground for them.

"I think the most enthusiastic person on Sunday was about three years old, maybe two. And he insisted on coming back on Monday morning - he dragged his grandfather, I think, over on Monday morning to come and see it.

"That's really great, because it's there to create new experiences and memories."

Volunteers meet at the edible woodland at 2.30pm most Sundays, but sessions are postponed if it is raining.

The work this Sunday is likely to include moving a path and pruning.

See www.bucksedwood.org.uk