KWES was set up to help young people into jobs in the forestry industry. Originally the beneficiaries were mainly ex-service personnel and ex-offenders having difficulty making the transition from an institutionalised life - but more and more are now people wishing to get into forestry (many with conservation and other degrees) frustrated by not having the levels of practical experience and skills necessary for them to find jobs.
There is a severe shortage of trained, experienced foresters. But apprenticeships are few to non-existent, because neither landowners nor forestry contractors see it as economic to offer the five-day-a-week training and experience that is essential. KWES was able to fill that gap, partly using charitable funding, and then a Regional Growth Fund grant - and in four years became by far the largest forestry apprenticeship scheme with twenty trainees by 2017. They should have been able to transfer into the government's Trailblazer scheme, but it provided finance only for one-day-a-week training. And KWES, although it had registered as an apprentice training provider, had its grant withdrawn and has been unable to offer anyone a Trailblazer apprenticeship.
But KWES is now able (on the basis of charitable support) to offer instead year-long training-and-experience-employment to a small number of people keen to enter the forestry industry.
Forestry, in broadleaf woods, (partcularly ancient woodlands) in the south east has been in decline since the First World War, which largely explains the acute shortage of trained and qualified workers able to respond to the current up-surge in demand for wood and wood-products; to manage Kent's woodlands; and to harvest the ever-increasing tonnage of timber needing felling.
Responsibility for many of these woods lies wth local authorities and/or volunteer groups unable to provide adequate management. KWES has a track record of raising charitable and other funding, including in some cases Forestry Commission and other grants, and can also access manpower and machinery, to assist in these circumstances.
Ancient woodlands have no statutory protection, and without adequate management (rotational coppicing) they become derelict, and die - or are cleared for agriculture or development. Their bio-diversity, (stemming from soils which have never been cultivated, fertilised or treated with pesticides), will be lost forever; it can never be replaced.
KWES is currently
(a) Managing improvements at an ancient woodland owned by a Kent borough council, for which KWES obtained a Postcode Local Lottery grant of £10,000. The activities include organising educational visits by local schools and other residents to see foresters at work, and also to see the flowers, butterflies, birds, animals and fungi which thrive in the woodland;
(b) in co-operation with Kent County Council and a parish council, discussing a bid for funds for the management of a KCC woodland, including the establishment there of a "museum of wood" (there is currently no such institution in the UK);
(c) in co-operation with a French forestry organisation and the Royal Botannic Gardens Kew at Wakehurst Place, in early stages of an Interreg bid for funds to establish a silvicultural scholarship scheme to train people each year. (Silviculture in ancient woodlands uses a holistc approach respecting ecological processes and variations in soil, micro-climate, fungi, flora and fauna as well as the trees themselves.)