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The Silvanus Trust Legacy

Where have we come from?

Evolving Forests probably started back in the 1920s when Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst bought Dartington Estate.  Their experiments in rural living and social justice included extreme innovation in all areas including forestry.  They employed Wilfred Hilley to revamp the estate’s forestry and build up sawmilling and added-value enterprises to support the local economy.  They tested new silvicultural approaches and new ways of integrating local business into land-use.

The Silvanus Trust

Jump forward to the 1980s and Dartington was still innovating.  Rather than focus just on its own estate it set up charities to work within the community on regeneration.  One of these was The Silvanus Trust.  Silvanus aimed to connect communities with their woodland, create a new woodland culture and bring small woodlands back into management.  It was part of a new drive for community focussed forestry.  One of a new group of woodland initiatives looking at the state of small woodlands.  For 30 years Silvanus worked with communities, worked on social justice through woodland activities.  It transformed unmanaged woodlands.  Silvanus brought together a group of involved Trustees from the forestry sector who believed in this new form of social forestry.  Not least Esmond Harris, ex Director of the Royal Forestry Society and possibly the mosy knowledgable and well renowned character in UK forestry.

Working Woodlands

One such Silvanus project was Working Woodlands. Working with Bow Maurice, a marketing agency, Silvanus set about building local supply-chains for wood products. helping woodland owners, sawmillers and makers.  It brought together the forestry expertise of David Danbury, the marketing expertise of Chris Bow and the community expertise of Silvanus with Sue Blacker at the helm. Within this sometimes fiery melting-pot was thrown a young Jez Ralph and even younger Caroline Harrison.

Working Woodlands was entirely funded by European Grants but there was always an inkling that it could be commercially driven.  We never got the chance to know. Caroline went to Confor; Jez to the Architectural Association.  Silvanus very sadly passed away when the social–forestry movement started running short of funding.

In 2014 Timber Strategies took the Working Woodlands legacy and tested it.  So far it seems to have worked.  Without the work of Silvanus and Working Woodlands, without David and Chris and Esmond Harris and Sue Blacker we wouldn’t be here today.

Where next for Silvanus

Though no longer operating, the Silvanus Trust lives on, dormant like an oak seed in the soil horizon.  Waiting for that moment of light to regenerate.  We’ve kept the Silvanus Trust trademark and logo and URLs for a time when we can reinvent social forestry for a new age, when the conditions are right for the charity to re-emerge and work with communities again.


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