We had been looking for a woodland to buy for years. We started in Hampshire where we lived at the time and continued the search when we moved the family to Wiltshire. We looked at lots of woodlands – but they were either too expensive, too remote, too big, too small, too young or were totally inaccessible.
We cast the net wider and wider looking further and further afield. In 2007 seven small pockets of woodland came up for sale in the Taw Valley, North Devon, 90 miles from home. We had earmarked four to have a look at. Despite being conifer plantation (when we were looking for broadleaf) we all, including our daughters who were young at the time, liked Courage Copse. It felt friendly. It felt like it would forgive us the mistakes we were bound to make.
We brought Courage Copse later that year.
Ben Law in his book ‘The Woodland Way’, urges new owners to take their time when planning how to manage their woodland. That is exactly what we did. We spent the next 4 years visiting, camping and managing Courage Copse in an ad hoc way; getting to know the land, mapping where the natural re-generation was happening in more abundance, doing flower and fungi surveys, noticing the changes the seasons brought. We also sort advice from forestry experts, went on training courses, read copious amounts of literature about trees and woodland management.
In April 2012 we made the courageous (pun intended!) decision to give up our jobs and manage the woodland full-time. If we were going to restore Courage Copse back to its native broadleaf state in a sympathetic and sustainable way it needed to be taken seriously and given the attention it deserved.
Neither of us came from forestry or conservation backgrounds, though we both have had a keen interest in both since childhood. In fact, both of us come from a creative background. The advantage this gives us is that we are both used to thinking outside the box, of looking at problems and trying to turn them into opportunities and… well, thinking creatively!
The four years spent visiting Courage Copse throughout the seasons, it quickly became clear that advice, from books and face to face, were more like guidelines rather than rules and needed to be specifically tailored to the land in question. It has only been though learning ‘on the job’ and being here fulltime that we have developed our approach and ethos to how we are going to restore the woodland and continue to make it a viable business.
We have taught ourselves (with the help of Courage Copse) many of the skills needed to undertake such a large restoration project – patience being one of the main ones!
Vince trained as a Fine Furniture Maker, working in the Arts and Crafts tradition. He set up his own Designer/Maker business, Kambium Furniture in 2002. Frustration at how difficult it was to source good quality English hardwoods became the impetus to start the search for a woodland of our own. Vince still takes on occasional furniture commissions, and intends to make new ranges of contemporary designs inspired by and made directly from the woodland itself.
Katy worked as a Creative Dancer specialising in creating dance performances for non-theatre spaces. Latterly her work has concentrated on the natural environment. As a ‘site-specific’ practitioner an important element of the practise is to work with the land, to treat the land as an equal partner in the creative process. Exactly the same can be said about woodland management. Katy has also gone on to train as a Forest School Leader and Shinrin- Yoku (Forest bathing) and is a natural mindfulness practitioner. Katy has taught Yoga for nearly 20 years.