Planners give go-ahead for Richmond community woodland

Rufus Woods organisers Phil Upton, of Purple Creative Studio, Jo Foster, of Kiss the Moon, Steve Biggs, of Just the Job and Tim Crawshaw, of Crawshaw Urban Design at the site in Richmond.

An open access woodland to celebrate the 950th anniversary of Richmond Castle looks set to trigger numerous similar schemes as communities seek to increase opportunities to connect with nature following lockdowns.

Following Richmondshire councillors enthusiastically approving plans for Rufus Woods, which has been named after William the Conqueror’s ally, Alan Rufus, Lord of Richemont in Upper Normandy, who commissioned the castle in 1071, planting will get underway within weeks.

The Count of Brittany is believed to have been among the most influential commanders at the Battle of Hastings and was rewarded with extensive estates in the north of England, which were formed into the honour of Richmond.

While the scheme has been aided with peppercorn rents offered by modern day landowners including the Earl of Ronaldshay, residents and traders of the town have banded together to create a green sanctuary with a difference.

Business leaders Steve Biggs, Tim Crawshaw, Jo Foster and Phil Upton have been working with landscape architect Alistair Baldwin over the past year to shape the scheme, which will be overseen by social enterprise, Just the Job.

They hope the woods, to feature at least 950 trees following thinning, will attract people of all ages can play, exercise, think, learn and relax on a  hectare site in the shadow of the castle, south of the Old Racecourse, as part of plans to mark the historic milestone.

Alongside the most common North Yorkshire trees such as alder, rowan, silver birch and common oak, the wood will feature goat willow, bird and wild cherry, whitebeam and lime and flora chosen for their ability to enhance the landscape and attract wildlife.

The wood will include benches, clearings, site-specific environmental art and a small rustic structure for wildlife observation as well as a display on the history of the town.

Mr Biggs said: “This project is a great example of the community coming together to create something positive for the future. We were delighted to have won the support of the Woodland Trust who will be providing trees, hedgerows and manpower.”

Surveys have revealed lockdowns have seen unprecedented increases in the number of people visiting the outdoors to enjoy nature and stay healthy.

District council chairman and Richmond councillor Clive World said while the impact of Covid-19 had dominated many people’s thoughts, it was vital to remember the ongoing crisis of climate change.

He said: “If we’ve learnt anything in 2020 it’s how important connecting with nature is for our health and wellbeing.

“This project tackles both of these issues and represents the community coming together to create a valuable asset that can enrich lives for generations to come.”

Approving the scheme, members of the council’s planning committee said they were delighted to see an application where trees were being added rather than taken away and that they wished to see similar projects in a number of other areas, such as Colburn.