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Farm seeks funds to reconnect people with food and nature

Farm seeks cash to reconnect people with food and nature

A nature-friendly farm managed by the Soil Association Land Trust is seeking funds to deliver a multi-million-pound community hub to reconnect people, schools and businesses with food and wildlife.

The Black Barn Project at Woodoaks Farm, Hertfordshire, has the confirmed support of two major funders: the National Lottery Heritage Fund and the HS2 Environment and Community Fund.

But it needs to raise a further £600,000 across 2024 to complete the project and is urging trusts and foundations to support the dramatic transformation the farm is undergoing.

The previously intensively managed farm was gifted to the Soil Association Land Trust in 2020 and with support from the community has planted 2,000 metres of hedgerow habitats as it converts to organic.

Although work is yet to start on building the hub, a programme of wildlife-focussed learning events – like butterfly spotting and bat listening sessions – are starting this month to pilot the experiences that the hub will offer when complete.

Connecting with farming

Woodoaks Manager Rose Lewis, of the Soil Association Land Trust, said: “Farming is often invisible to the public – they walk past huge fields of single crops and do not necessarily understand the negative impacts this has on nature.

“This funding will totally change that. We already work with an amazing team of volunteers and are starting to run exciting projects such as open days, tours, birdbox building and hedge planting.

“Being so close to London, Woodoaks is often the first chance for younger visitors to see farm animals and nature up close – plus they can meet our team of growers, rangers and wildlife experts.

“We get so much joy from people experiencing things for the first time – children and adults love digging in the soil to find worms, observing red kites in the sky, or seeing Saturn through a telescope.”

Education on nature-friendly farming

Previously growing just three crops, Woodoaks now educates locals on nature-friendly farming and grows more than 30 crops with sales directly to the public starting last year for the first time in decades.

The farm will now be able to give more back to the community with the planned education hub project, which will renovate and repurpose old farm buildings for education and events, with the historic 16th century, Grade II listed Black Barn at its centre.

The Black Barn Project aims to establish the UK’s very best outdoor classroom, develop an educational programme for local primary and secondary school children, and empower teachers and students to make pro-climate, nature and environmental choices.

Initial support of £200,000 has been received from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, made possible by National Lottery players, in preparation for a full grant application of £1.6million to be submitted later this year.

Hertfordshire schools get wildlife lessons

Maple Cross JMI and Nursery School Headteacher Hannah Trickett said: “We’re so lucky to have Woodoaks nearby. Connecting with nature is a vital part of education, and Woodoaks gives our pupils opportunities they can’t get anywhere else.

“The children have loved the hands-on experience – if they meet their funding we can send larger groups, so more young learners get to enjoy these benefits.

“We’re excited to get involved with their pilot schemes and to see this develop so future generations can access nature and farming.”

Further volunteer recruitment and a schedule of events to engage the local community, together with school visits, is now underway, with the building works expected to complete in two years.

Trusts, foundations and anyone interested in supporting the project can find out more and get in touch at woodoaksfarm.com.

Soil Association have been funding hedgerow re-planting, creating habitats for local wildlife, improving soil and increasing biodiversity. Get involved and support our work.