Princess supports woodland petition

PUBLISHED: 07:38 28 May 2008 | UPDATED: 21:51 15 June 2010

THE chief executive of East Devon District Council has offered to visit Offwell Woodland Education Centre after being presented with a 4,500-signature petition calling for more council support.

THE chief executive of East Devon District Council has offered to visit Offwell Woodland Education Centre - after being presented with a 4,500-signature petition calling for more council support.Mark Williams was handed the petition by Gill Graham, of Offwell Environment Link. The document urges the council to support the centre.Thirty-three letters of support from a wide range of concerned organisations accompanied the petition. There was also a letter written on behalf of the Princess Royal, who visited the centre in 2005. Following his acceptance of the petition, Mr Williams offered to visit the Centre and meet those most directly concerned with its future.Restoration work on the 50-acre site (which is owned by the Forestry Commission) started in 1986 and a charity, Offwell Woodland and Wildlife Trust, was established to take this forward. The twin aims of the charity are conservation and education, and it has succeeded in both far beyond most people's expectations.Under the guidance of Stephen Lawson, centre director, a series of large-scale projects has transformed what was essentially a rhododendron-infested wasteland into a mosaic of diverse habitats, supporting many species - including rare ones - that previously were absent from the site. The combination of a compact site and a wide range of habitats is ideal for hands-on education, as students can move easily from one type of habitat to another. The centre boasts two classrooms and is visited by schools from all over East Devon and beyond, as well as many groups of adults, including those in tertiary education and those with disabilities. It has an internationally-renowned website (part of the National Grid for Learning) currently recording about 1.5 million hits a month. A recent innovation is the development and use of hand-held electronic guides. Using these, a non-expert can lead a group studying a specialist topic, confident in the knowledge that all the illustrations, descriptions and other information needed for the study are readily to hand.A spokesperson for Offwell Environment Link said: "Despite widespread public acclaim for the centre and its work, fundraising has always been a major problem and has occupied a disproportionate amount of staff time. "Public authorities have shown minimal interest in the centre. "Indeed, many such bodies are raiding the National Lottery for their own purposes, and are in direct competition with the charities and other good causes that people were led to believe the National Lottery was designed to help. "A huge swathe of lottery money is going to the 2012 Olympics, putting an additional squeeze on charities, and grants to charities from private and company foundations are becoming ever more difficult to obtain due to the increasingly uncertain economic climate.

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