Scottish Native Woods received a grant of £39,618 in February 2003. The application for the Townhill Wood Access Improvement Project was submitted by SNW on behalf of and with the support of both the local community group (the Townhill Wood Improvement Group or TWIG) and Fife Council. The project, concentrating on path improvements and the provision of interpretation, was jointly managed by Scottish Native Woods' Area Manager for Central Lowlands and the Fife Council Ranger Service. The wood is owned by Fife Council Common Good Fund.
Townhill Wood is an area of mixed semi-mature woodland dominating the hillside to the east and above Townhill village. For over 600 years the woodland has been intimately linked to the village and its occupants. During the 12th century the area was given freely to the community by the Abbot of Dunfermline, "to use as they please". At this time the area was dominated by natural woodland, of birch and oak. Remnants of this wildwood still remain, although now mostly hidden beneath dense stands of mixed commercial conifers probably planted between the two World Wars.
Townhill was once a thriving mining community, with coal mines pock-marking the neighbouring countryside. Parts of the woodland itself were once mined and spoil heaps and the occasional shallow sunken pit still remain, as evidence of a once dominant land use. Traffic from the nearby quarry still uses a road through the wood.
Over the years the woodland has become a focal point for the villagers, both as a place for recreation and as a dominant landform over looking the village. However, as the conifers have grown, the woodland has become ever more dark and foreboding, its once-popular paths have become neglected and the woodland has ceased to be a favoured place to walk and play.
The need for a new breath of life
Adjacent to the village is Townhill Loch, focal centre for the local Country Park, which also takes in the woods, and location of the Fife Council Ranger Service for the West of Fife. At the end of 2002 a new ranger began work there, someone that had lived and worked in the area for the whole of her life, Lyn Strachan. Lyn knew well the plight of the woods at Townhill - she had visited them many times over the years and saw at first hand their demise. The paths were generally overgrown and extremely wet with a number of sections blocked by mud and fallen trees. Ditches that were meant to funnel water away tended to hold water on the paths making them impassable during heavy rain.
Lyn was very keen to reverse this deterioration, as was the community and the community council. The community had even set up a Townhill Woodland Improvement Group that included pupils from the local primary school. However, the task of enhancing the woodlands was far too great for them alone, and they needed a kick start to help them improve the recreational infrastructure of the woodlands.
After much deliberation it was agreed that the re-opening of three circular walks was the key first step. These walks were on the woodland edges and so needed relatively little tree removal to allow enough light in to keep the paths dry and well lit. The paths were surveyed metre by metre, as were ditches, and an eight-page dossier was prepared covering the three key paths, itemising all of their shortcomings - the Pug Line path had over half a kilometre of mud, Wilson Street was almost a river, and Forest Place Circular Walk was no longer a circle because of fallen and falling trees.
After discussion with Scottish Native Woods' Area Manager, Simon Lockwood, it was agreed that SNW would apply to the Community Environmental Renewal Grant scheme for assistance to breathe new life into these old woods, and a grant was offered to cover the improvement of 1,866 metres of path and install 2 Interpretation panels.
The path work
Work started once the grant had been approved. Ditches needed to be cleaned out of many years accumulation of leaf litter, wood and fly tipping which had choked all of the path-side water escape routes. But these ditches passed through many areas of native woodland remnants, so use of a mechanical excavator which would require most adjacent trees to be removed was ruled out. Instead, the local ditcher was brought in and over a number of weeks of back-breaking hand-digging, he unblocked and restored flowing water to over 800 meters of the old ditches, drying up the swamped and flooded paths. Locals watched with astonishment as the hands of one man removed tonnes of sludge and leaf litter. With a little drying the paths started to look a little more passable.
Next came the path construction contractor. With his team he cut and removed fallen and falling trees, scrub and bramble, skips of litter, bits of car and the odd pram. Then, painstakingly all the paths were scraped, just enough to remove the drying mud and yet more leaf litter but not deep enough to disturb the rock underneath. After all were scraped, culverts and cross drains were dug to further funnel water through and away from the paths. 200 meters of plastic pipe and small cross drains further added to the evidence that progress was being made. 27 metres of 1:20 slope at the top of Wilson Street needed 20 tones of stone to make the path gradient easier, and over 500 tonnes of crushed stone was spread with a drag box grader to exactly 1.4 meters wide and 85 mm thick. The stone was rolled in twice, then topped with whin dust and rolled twice more. As the roller trundled off the finished paths, in came the first walkers looking a little disbelieving as they said "We heard this was going to be done but we had heard this so may times before and nothing happened - its truly a great day". With almost 2 kilometres of bright new path, dry grey ribbons leading through the woods, Townhill Wood is once more an attractive recreational and amenity site for the village.
A story to tell
The new interpretation panels show the way - three have been installed within the original budget, not just 2. They describe the woods as they once were, with the history of mining in the area, as they are now with the plants and animals that can be seen, and how they might be in the future if further management can be funded. A local artist was drafted in, who knew the area and has seen most of the species he wanted to illustrate close to the woods. Traditional green oak frames for the panels and oak waymarkers came from a local sawmill, using trees cut down in the area.
All the work happened smoothly and easily and most labour and materials, including the stone, came from no more than 10 miles away!
What's next at Townhill?
Now that the woods have become as busy as ever, they can be used to their full potential. A Woodland Awareness Day was held in June 2003 to show the local community what Scottish Native Woods thought the trees needed and what could be done in the woods after opening up the dark interior which people were still not keen on entering. More native trees and more native flowers would be required, but these generally need more light and much of the dense and unthinned conifers need to be removed. Red Squirrel and rare plants like Chickweed Wintergreen (often glimpsed on the woodland floor) may become a much more common sight if the woods become more full of wildlife.
A good outcome
Detailed planning and a very detailed path specification made for easy contract specification and supervision. The whole project was completed within budget and is a good demonstration of successful co-operation between the local community, the Local Authority (Fife Council) Ranger Service and the native woodland charity Scottish Native Woods.
The CERG grant was provided by the Scottish Executive. Fife Council Ranger Service is part-funded by Scottish Natural Heritage. In 2002/03, Scottish Native Woods Central Lowlands Area Manager was part-funded by European Union Objective 2 Structural Funds and Scottish Natural Heritage.
Scottish Native Woods
1 Crieff Road
Telephone: 01887 820392