Community woodland funded by community shares

Chris Kitson, co- founder and secretary of the Long Lands Common Community Benefit Society, describes how thousands of local residents have been able to purchase land which will have many multi-generational benefits for people and nature, as well as mitigating climate change. 

Where is Long Lands Common? 

Long Lands Common is in the greenbelt between Harrogate and Knaresborough, directly within the greenbelt space which had been proposed for a new A59 bypass.  

Why did you get so many people together to purchase this land in 2020? 

A large number of people had just successfully campaigned for three years to prevent this road being built, but some of us were still concerned that future generations would have to defend the land again. We knew there were high levels of community support to prevent destruction of the Nidd Gorge, and felt that if at least some of the land required was owned and valued as a community asset by many local people it would deter the County Council from bringing up the idea of a bypass again in future. As well as protecting the existing natural and community benefits the Nidd Gorge woodland area already provides, creating an additional rewilded area will also have biodiversity and carbon capture benefits. 

Who did you get advice from? 

Co-operatives UK provided us with a Booster Programme start-up grant which enabled us to get help with our business plan and share offer. These were drafted by ourselves with help from  Co-op Culture in Hebden Bridge. The folks at Whistlewood Common community woodland were also very helpful with advice. 

How did you raise £250, 000 from community shares? 

People were really excited by the idea that they could be part of preserving the greenbelt and helping nature recover, investing in the future for younger generations. Thousands of people already knew about us; they were engaged, and we made it easy and safe for them to buy shares. 

First, we set up a website to launch the project during the first Covid lockdown and gain 1,500 pledges, which happened quickly because we already had a high profile in the community and on social media. We also put up posters around the community where people were taking their daily exercise. Whilst we taking pledges we had to gain the Community Shares Standard Mark so we could qualify for further Booster funding and give investors confidence in our share offer. We then launched a high-profile four-month share sales campaign to sell shares on our website in £50 batches.  Encouraged by our message of hope for the future during lockdown, many people bought shares for their children and grandchildren. We reached our target by the deadline date agreed with the estate agents. 

What are some of your next steps to restore nature? 

Once Covid restrictions are lifted we will welcome public support! It’s vital to encourage everyone to engage with nature, so first we will build public access routes. In due time we will create a biodiverse nature reserve with a variety of habitats - woodlands wetlands, wild hedgerows and wildflower meadows - where the community can come together for educational, recreational and social activities.    

With support from the White Rose Forest, we will work on developing a mixed habitat by starting to plant around 20, 000 native trees using permaculture principles. We will also put our dreams of new ponds and wetlands into reality.  

What could others who want to grow a community woodland learn from your experience? 

We found that having a committed team and strong community around you was essential, and also found that having strong family support was important – because this work is very time consuming! Putting time into ensuring high visibility using, for example, press releases, poster campaigns and social media was also very important. 

Photo credit: Gary Lawson Media (groupshot), Long Lands Common Community Benefit Society (red field)