How Wooplaw was started
In 1987, the first Community Woodland in Britain came into being at Wooplaw Woods. It was the brainchild of Tim Stead, a wood sculptor and furniture maker who lived nearby in the village of Blainslie.
Tim specialised in using native British hardwoods, rather than imported timber, and he wanted to try to replace some of the massive elm, oak and ash trees he had used in his works of art. He raised some ‘seed corn’ money (£3,500) by making and selling 365 wooden axeheads in what he called his “Axes for Trees” project. Each axhead was unique and and made from various species of British hardwood.
At the time Tim had no idea how to go about acquiring land to plant trees or how to make them grow but, following publicity for his “Axes for Trees” project, he met up with people who did, including Donald McPhillimy at Reforesting Scotland and Alan Drever at Scottish Native Woods Campaign. It was then that the land at Wooplaw came up for sale and, with the aid of grants from WWF and the Countryside Commission it was purchased and an organisation set up to manage it – called at that time Borders Community Woodlands.
Wooplaw Woods covers 20 hectares (about 50 acres) but at that time only half of it was covered with woodland – the rest was just fields. Over the years, with the help of volunteers, thousands of trees have been planted in those fields and in areas where the some of the original commercial Sitka spruce trees have been harvested. Ponds have been dug, an otter holt has been built and a log cabin, a thatched roundhouse and a toilet have been constructed. There is an extensive barbecue area, which is a favourite with visitors, some of whom stay overnight in tents or in the log cabin. Paths have also been laid to ease access for the disabled, and boardwalks, bridges and stiles put in place.
Following the establishment of Borders Forest Trust (BFT) in 1996, the wider role of “promoting local community projects throughout the Borders” passed from Borders Community Woodlands to BFT and, to avoid confusion it adopted its present day name of Wooplaw Community Woodlands.
Sadly Tim died in 2000 aged only 48 years. But his idea started a great movement. Now there are over 60 community woodlands in Scotland alone! They are all very different. They have varying degrees of emphasis on promoting local employment, education, art, public access, wildlife, sustainability etc. But the common factor is that the local community manages them for the local community.
Tim is buried at Wooplaw and you can visit his grave in Easter Park. Beside the grave is a sculpture in burr elm of Tim by Russian artist Eduard Bersudsky – who was a long-time friend of Tim and his family. In the open space nearby, a massive totem pole carved from a Sitka spruce felled at Wooplaw is also dedicated to Tim’s memory.