Gala Policies

Seeking Solace in Gala Policies Community Woodland by Anna Craigen

We’re so lucky to have access to beautiful countryside and local woodlands pretty much wherever we live in the towns and villages of the Borders. I’ve lost count of how many people I’ve heard say something along these lines over the last few months, often followed by ‘I can’t imagine what it would be like living in a city or block of flats just now!’

Covid 19 is undeniably absolutely horrific. I’m not sure about anyone else, but I have to admit that I found many aspects of lockdown pretty nice! Having no option but to slow down and do what you could to enjoy yourself at home, in your garden (if you’re lucky enough to have one), and in your permitted short spells of outdoor exercise – suited me rather nicely. Like many others I pottered in the garden; took up baking and got creative in the kitchen trying to make something tasty out of a small onion, a flaccid carrot, a shard of swede and random remnant larder supplies. I really, really tuned in to bird song, to the point where I knew where my little favourite pal Barry Blackbird with his quirky call was hanging out. I liked to keep some of the local children/ families busy with wee wildlife challenges and I also whiled away the hours (probably too many!) taking macro photos of bugs and beasties…. so relaxing.

We also all probably spent too much time attached to our phones and gadgets, I’ll hold my hands up – however, I genuinely took loads of pleasure in following a variety of different groups on Facebook. A stand out for me was the Gala Policies Group. This small, mature urban policy woodland in Galashiels was a place of true solace for so many different local people during those strange lockdown times. Members of the public chose to spend their outdoor exercise time doing such a variety of lovely things there and then shared photographs of their experiences with the Group. From a single fairy door at the base of a large beech tree, grew clusters of fairy communities throughout the woodland; fungi foragers shared their finds; budding photographers captured fab wildlife sightings and stunning sunsets/ sunrises; the Community Woodland group members independently beavered away to keep the place tidy and well managed (even resolving issues with windblown trees during a time like that!).  For me looking in, there was a real sense of solidarity and camaraderie that truly summed up the wealth of real benefits that our Community Woodlands can offer to local people from all walks of life.

Now that we are tentatively working towards finding safe new ways of living with our pandemic foe, our freedom has increased and exploring the great outdoors in all its many guises is back on the agenda. There are plans for lots of exciting things to be happening at Gala Policies (when the time is right and adhering to recommended guidelines of course).

If you would like to get involved please check out the Gala Policies Group on Facebook, your involvement and support would be very welcomed. If you don’t live near this one, don’t worry there is very likely be a Community Woodland in your local area.

If you live in the Borders and there isn’t a Community Woodland in your area, but you’d like one – then please get in touch with Anna@bordersforesttrust.org and let’s see what we can do. These multi-faceted phenomenal community resources can offer so much and they all need enthusiasm, people power and support to thrive.

Just recently the Gala Policies Group Management Committee has a had a bit of a reshuffle, here are a few words from the new Chairperson Jill Forsyth.

The Gala Policies Group ( GPG) is hoping to establish a self-sustaining and thriving woodland culture which connects people with the natural environment now and in the future.

The Gala Policies are situated on land formerly belonging to the now demolished New Gala House, now sandwiched between Balmoral housing estate and 3 local schools (both primary and secondary) and consist of a mix of deciduous trees and pine trees, a pond and an area of woodland pasture.

It is an area that is much loved and used by the local community. It is managed by Scottish Borders Council. The GPG was reformed a year ago after concerns that the area was becoming neglected and often subjected to vandalism. The GPG is now part of Galashiels Community Council. The group consists of members of the public and representatives from SBC, Borders Forest Trust and Nature Unlimited.

The Policies support a wide range of habitats as stated above. This year there have been sightings of roe deer and an otter.

Last year the GPG were granted monies from Scottish Forestry which have been mainly used to purchase maintenance and litter picking tools.

The group were intending to run various events in the Policies e.g. a dawn chorus walk, willow sculpture workshop, pond dipping, a bio-blitz and facilitating events run by Nature Unlimited and Borders Forrest Trust but these were unfortunately curtailed by COVID 19.

During the COVID lockdown the Policies were extensively used and valued by the wider community who used the area for the prescribed daily exercise hour whether for walking, running or cycling.

The future plans of Gala Policies:-

The group to continue with monthly litter picks. These are held on the last Saturday of the month from 10-12pm

To apply for further funding to enable GPG to finance a variety of social and educational activities

To continue to develop social media presence. The Facebook page has received over 200 hits

To continue to raise public awareness of the benefits of using and caring for the Policies

If you have any queries or comments about the work of GPG or have any ideas and would like to get involved then please contact Jill Forsyth at jmforsyth@googlemail.com or on Facebook