March 2015 marks a year since Sally Mitchell and Matthew Simon started work on a new 7 acre community woodland in Marple Bridge and with the help of friends and neighbours they have made amazing progress. In January 2015 over 80 volunteers came to help plant 1,200 trees.
The wood is named after Rollins Lane that runs from the Iron Bridge in Brabyns Park towards Compstall Rd, along the western edge of the wood. Until recently, the land comprised two neglected fields with overgrown hedges but this description doesn't do justice to the variety of wildlife habitats and scenery.
"We thought this wild, interesting patch would be ideal for a community woodland – and as we looked, and discovered the wildlife, our ideas expanded," says Matthew. "We found orchids, ancient woodland flora, wet bog, bluebells; and we saw many butterflies, birds including owl, sparrowhawk, wren, buzzard, jay and blackcap; plus a local fox and badger digging in the riverbank.
"The local residents were enthusiastic and we now have a flourishing communal vegetable patch and the beginnings of a community orchard."
The plan is to set up a cooperative to own the land later this year, with £50 shares on sale to anyone who wants to support the project and share in the fruits of everyone's labour. Sally was a skilled ecologist who taught Biology at Cheadle & Marple Sixth Form College. She and Matthew devised the plan for the wood last summer and spent many happy hours monitoring the plants and wildlife through the seasons. Sadly, Sally died in November from ovarian cancer she had had for three years and Matthew sees the wood as her legacy for future generations.
Next year, the wildflower meadow will be regularly cut with wild areas left for butterflies. Other plans include a forest garden of perennial food plants and fruit bushes, hazel coppice and willow for basket making. The concept is of a productive, educational woodland. Matthew, known as Maz through his local furniture-making enterprise, is often to be found down in the wood, tidying up, cutting firewood or measuring the growth of trees. Trees are his passion. "We have planted sixteen different types of native trees thanks to the Woodland Trust", he explains, "my vision is for a local arboretum with as many of our native trees as we can manage, including species such as hornbeam, lime and wych elm that are not common locally. Then children can follow the tree trail and see just what diversity we have. I know that children really benefit from time spent outdoors."
Rollins Wood is open to all, with signs from Compstall Rd and Rollins Lane pointing the way. The paths across the wood are used by Marple Bridge residents to reach the park and some have stopped to help, becoming part of the network of volunteers that has included Marple Guides and Friends of both Brabyn's and Etherow parks.
"There is always work to do in the wood", says Maz, "and we'll be having regular volunteer days all year for everything from bat surveys to weeding the new trees." He maintains a Facebook page and a presence on the Marpleuk website forum as well as sending regular updates to friends of the wood. "Everyone of all ages can help just get in touch!".