Don't just plant trees, create woodlands

Alex is developing a diverse and collaborative business model for better woodlands

Totnes, Devon

In the rush to plant our way out of the climate crisis, how do we create genuinely sustainable woodland that will still be here in 2030? It's not just about right tree, right place - you need to care for it in the right way, too.

Elliot Kett caught up with Alex Tempest, founder of The Woodland Presents, to find out how he is developing a diverse and collaborative business model for better woodlands

Alex Tempest wants to model a better way of creating and managing woodlands

Alex Tempest started The Woodland Presents in 2015 as a response to the economic, ecological and societal challenges he saw in front of him. Over the last six years, the project has evolved to be what he calls “a kind of Silicon Valley for woodlands and forests, prototyping new innovations.”

The work is driven by a conviction that many of our current problems could be helped by establishing networks which allow individuals to connect in new ways and utilise resources differently. Alex notes that it's difficult for people to access information about woodlands and forestry outside the formal educational routes, and however good these are, there is a presumption of trees as a resource – which Alex believes “is only ever going to result in deforestation.”

"Diversity is one of our huge strengths ... just like when we plant forests – we try and increase diversity to improve ecological resilience.”

The Woodland Presents is a community interest company and works with a cluster of organisations that share mutual interests and needs. Alex reflects that the uncertainties of the time – both in terms of COVID and the climate crises – are helping like-minded organisations work together and find common interests and goals. "Diversity is one of The Woodland Presents’ huge strengths," he says, "We do a multitude of different things and have weathered COVID and economic downturns because of it. We have a diversity of people involved in our networks – just like when we plant forests – we try and increase diversity to improve ecological resilience.”

Alex sees “the art of invitation” as a key part of what makes The Woodland Presents a success. “We have to invite people to some sort of action in a way that they’re comfortable. That they feel able to meet and are not alienated by. That is a real art in itself, you know, showing people where the door is and holding it open for them in a way that they can walk through.” He has noticed that, “We’re finding success in being a sort of conduit to draw down resources – and provide hubs. We’re now working with people with severe mental health needs. We don’t necessarily have skills to provide mental health support, but we're bringing them into the woods and enabling them to experience just being in the woodland and experiencing its therapeutic benefits. I think what we’re learning from working with our community is that there’s a real skill to engagement.”


Another of the ways that Alex engages with his community is by inviting the many, talented makers to The Woodland Presents hub. “We put on makers events and we’ve created a centre downstairs that has excellent machinery, that is usable on a pay-as-you-go model, very affordable. So, it lets people do things in a safe way and people come and mingle and meet. Since they've started coming, we also started inviting foresters and sawmillers too, then we do things like have open studios where customers will come. And we've got a bunch of courses that we run. So we have created this little ecology.”

“Most people would understand what nose to tail eating was, but no one understands, you know, root to branch kind of consumption of trees.”

Beyond all the work The Woodland Presents does to bring the community together, what drives Alex is how their work can develop to educate more people about forestry. He says, “Most people would understand what nose to tail eating was, but no one understands, you know, root to branch kind of consumption of trees.” He points out that “50% of the tree can be used for timber, 30% of it can be used for smaller products, you know, poles, fence posts etc. 20% could go for wood chip. We can't take trees, forests and woodlands for granted.”

He is keen to share his expertise and knowledge with others so that they can learn how to enrich the forest too. From maintaining canopy height, to removing trees that are diseased, to educating makers about different types of wood, the work of The Woodland Presents is wide and varied.

"We need to go beyond the ‘right trees in the right place’ strapline."

Overall, their work is perhaps summed up best by Alex’s plea: “We need to go beyond the ‘right trees in the right place’ strapline. For us it's more like ‘the right trees in the right place doing the right thing with the right people to look after them ' - a new ecological economic model.”