You know you’re in for a good trip when a man picks you up from the airport and says in a thick German accent, ‘And now to the party.’ That’s how the Women in Arboriculture Group’s summer trip to Bad Düben in Germany started.
The trip was organised by Grampus Heritage, a non-profit organisation based in the northwest of England which is involved in the management and promotion of European projects concerned with culture, heritage, archaeology and the environment. I didn’t really know what to expect; all I knew was that it was some kind of cultural exchange with a focus on woodland management. I’m a true Yorkshire lass, so a free week-long visit to Germany with like-minded people sounded right up my street.
A tree inside a tree at Worlitzer Park,Oranienbaum-Wörlitz, Germany.
A charcoal kiln.
Sonja Kremer working on her dragon.
I was accompanied by Bettina Broadway-Mann, an Arboricultural Consultant from Monmouthshire, and Felicity Stout, a Tree Conservation Officer/Tree Consultant in the Peak District. Alongside the ‘tree folk’ were three other trainers, a countryside ranger from Leeds, and two environment and countryside lecturers from Aberdeen (also known as David, Colin and Carla). Collectively we were known as the ‘elderly people’ or ‘the teachers’; well, that’s what we were introduced to the students as. The eight students were staying for a month and came from all over England, studying a range of subjects from arboriculture (shout-out to Joe and Richard) to game-keeping and conservation.
Located deep in the forest of the Dubener Heide Naturpark, a retro guesthouse dating back to the time of the DDR was to be our home for the week. Imagine a smaller version of the hotel from The Shining but decorated with stuffed toys everywhere. That said, we were well looked after, and the location was stunning and teeming with wildlife including slow-worms and wild boar.
We spent the first two days at a chainsaw carving festival located in Tornau. The 20th anniversary of the International Wood Sculpture Competition saw 36 artists from across Europe competing with 4,000 visitors in attendance. It was heaving! Beer, sausages, sunshine and traditional German folk music set the tone for the weekend. To start with the students were given a huge log, two brand new chainsaws (plus PPE) and were told to get carving. This year’s theme was ‘In the footsteps of fairies, elves and forest spirits’. Most of the students had very little chainsaw experience, but perseverance and a fine art graduate named Simon saved the day. They did a great job with the carving and somehow managed to avoid getting burnt to a crisp, even in the 30°C+ heat.
Three prizes were given at the event, and even though only a handful of the contestants were women, two took home prizes. The winner of the Köppe Prize was Felix Altenburg with his sculpture ‘Forest is Spirit’, Sonja Kremer received the Audience Award for her dragon and the Artist Award went to Bogumila Canibal for her elf.
The next few days were pretty action packed. We visited what felt like every cultural attraction in the area, from an open-cast mine turned nature reserve to a canal tour and Battle of Nations Monument visit in Leipzig and from an arboretum planted with the help of English students to a tap water treatment facility. We even visited a UNESCO World Heritage Site English garden complete with its own yobbos kicking a man on the ground!
My personal highlight was a visit to a local charcoal making facility. The owner had upgraded since the old days, opting to use more permanent kilns rather than the traditional piles, but it is still an incredibly labour-intensive process. It was great to see someone so passionate about their craft and town, and he ran the business like a social enterprise, with apprenticeships for local youths and regular community events. He also informed us of the challenges he faced. One major issue is the reintroduction of beaver into the area after a long period of absence (100s of years). The owner of the charcoal facility believes that the beaver have killed off many beech trees throughout the forest, mainly due to the change in the water table from their dam construction. This, coupled with the floods damaging his kilns, meant that his business was running at only one third production capacity. This statement sparked an interesting debate about the reintroduction of animals and the impacts they can have on the ecosystem.
On the final day we visited an ancient woodland and were given a talk on a 25-year state-funded project to restore the wetland following years of intensive farming. The project is coming to an end and those involved had seen many benefits from it. However, due to climate change the wetlands are becoming drier year on year.
Overall it was a brilliant trip with a great group of people in a beautiful part of the world, and I would highly recommend joining a Grampus Heritage tour to anyone considering it.
Join a Grampus Heritage trip
Grampus Heritage runs a series of cultural exchange trips across Europe through Erasmus+ funding. This trip was part of the woodland management Placements in Environmental, Archaeological and Traditional Skills (PEATS) programme. If you are a student looking to gain experience in environmental, conservation, ecotourism, sustainable tourism, organic farm management or woodland management, or if you feel you could contribute in a trainer capacity, details on how to apply can be found on the website: www.grampusheritage.co.uk/
This article was taken form Issue 187 Winter 2019 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.