Enormous pleasure and wonder mingle on their faces
because the basic information they were given has opened up a new world of knowledge to
them and all the other schoolchildren and older students who visit the centre.
Few children today run wild in the countryside, picnicking in fields, and
having adventures in woodland and on river banks. It's sad that this vital
connection with nature has been lost and with it the knowledge enabling them to enjoy and
learn from the environment. But here at Offwell they can make up for that loss, having fun
while also exploring a variety of wildlife habitats via lots of hands-on practical
Set in a steep sided and wooded south facing valley the 50 acre centre, managed by the
Offwell Woodland & Wildlife Trust in partnership with the Forestry
Commission, was originally a Victorian pleasure garden, built by the
Copleston family some 200 years ago. In those days exotic plants were
collected from abroad by intrepid employees of aristocratic families and
plant nurseries. All these new plants were widely grown throughout England,
reflecting affluence and power, rhododendrons, in particular, becoming
popular - and these are still growing at Offwell.
When I visited the Centre, I was shown around by Steve Lawson, the Director
of the Trust, who said wryly, "50 acres of land when we started, with 48
sterile acres of rhodos. "
The enormous initial task of removing and controlling the invasive
rhododendrons began in 1986. The removal of these tall and vigorous plants,
together with sympathetic management, has brought about the recolonisation
of the area by native plants and their attendant animal species. This has
allowed the Centre to become an area of great conservation value, and to be
designated a County Wildlife Site.