Trees for Everyone, Timber for All

Non woodland trees (NWT) are finally starting to be much more widely noticed; daily news flow regarding trees in the landscape from across the UK highlights the growth of a much more positive perception of trees; and there is increasing attention on tree pests and diseases by general media.

Watching (and playing with) social media, it is very evident that there is much more questioning re forestry and trees from a very wide spectrum of interests and a significant amount of attention from the public. Whether it is the same people who campaigned so hard during the PFE disposal furore is impossible to ascertain but there is a large bubble just below the surface ready to burst in protest but only if seriously provoked. The NPPF was not enough to stir real emotion, but issues with regards the felling of trees in a particular locale by those in that location proves this.

Local newspapers which report on such issues tend to get very high hits, often becoming the most popular story of the day or week, but those newspapers that choose simply to reproduce PR do not get such attention.

People love their trees. Policy makers and the so called ‘stakeholders’ can argue all they want about the use of ‘our’ in terms of elements of the landscape, but the fact is that this is now firmly established and I would question the wisdom of any who attempt to change this perception.

Also the people are clearly engaged with the real issues.

A survey by SOW carried out one week last November proved this when 44.9% of 229 respondents stated that Pests, Diseases and Invasive Species were the most important forestry or tree related issue. The full results for that question were:

Pests, Diseases & Invasive Species 44.9% 101
Public Access 4.9% 11
Woodland Creation 7.1% 16
Plantations for sustainable forest products 4.4% 10
Habitat creation and conservation 14.2% 32
Urban tree planting and maintenance 16.9% 38
Other 7.6% 17

Many of those involved in PR have had a serious ‘bashing’ with regards any issue they jump into that involves landscapes and the elements therein.   But approaching issues through discussion or open debate remains safe territory.

Ignore the sentiments of the European Landscape Convention and pretend it is not a legal obligation if you wish. Ignore all the heavy weight of academic study from the last 30 years which has discovered, and continues to, that the only way forward is ‘bottom up’ if you wish also. You can even try to pretend to install a ‘bottom up’ approach by the occasional ‘stakeholder workshop’ or another conference ‘open to all’ but it won’t work. People are intrinsically attached to their landscapes, their trees and their forests and they want the real issues dealt with.

We now have all the studies necessary (but not yet exhausted) to prove that the value of trees, their benefits to society and the environment are huge, but what about the economic?

Had ‘money or funding’ been included in the above survey question I do not doubt it would have been one the top answers, as several of the ‘Others’ when asked why, had stated that without the resources in place no other issue was worth contemplating!

That trees increase property values, however true, cuts no ice (particularly in a global economic crisis one of the causes of which was widespread improvident property valuation). Simply focussing on biodiversity values or ecosystem services will not be sufficient either.

The government should be substantially funding forestry, tree planting and maintenance, but they won’t, but neither will they relinquish much control it seems. As such the PR kicks in and decides it is better to ignore the realities of timber production at the same time as having to fell to satisfy governmental demands for timber sales revenue, it is the worst of both worlds and further because the private forestry sector is sidelined and allowed to be demonised.

Last year the French publicity campaign for the International Year of the Forests was huge, posters appeared everywhere with the slogan ‘merci la forêt’, illustrating that all three pillars of sustainable development and more are realised through forestry. To believe that people in the UK do not realise this, is to believe the people are stupid, which far too many people do, despite evidence to the contrary (although as many PR teams on Twitter and elsewhere believe it is better to follow no one except other PR teams – then how the heck will they ever realise).

Can a healthy thriving timber industry help fund NWT, and the planting of new broadleaved woodland? Yes (indirectly) – but only if plantations are accepted also. But a healthy thriving timber industry cannot and should not be expected to also fund a PR machine which solely concentrates on the fringe benefits of multi functional forestry and does nothing to promote timber.

Forestry needs a collective voice, one which lobbies as hard as farming and alongside the arboricultural community. Recognising the difference between non woodland trees / forestry plantations and semi natural woodland is needed, but from a combined voice and fully transparent. The present situation is the other way round and helps nobody.

Many are investing in good shoes to take off from the starting blocks when funding becomes available, perhaps believing that the forestry panel deliberations will release such funds. But we must not allow the limited and now largely discredited timeframe the average city economist thinks in, and to whom Defra seem to favour the advice of (over and above the internationally recognised experts on the subject many of whom are on their payroll!), to infiltrate discussion as this could result in nonsense like ‘biodiversity offsetting’ and the increasingly unethical results of carbon offsetting being flouted as actually having potential to bolster a believed to be ‘failing’ UK forestry sector which is being prevented from demonstrating that it is far from failing it simply is not listened to.

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5 Comments

Filed under Trees and Woodlands

5 responses to “Trees for Everyone, Timber for All

  1. Gordon

    On the nail and nicely put, fair share of the publicity and a shared lobbying platform for the timber industry is well overdue.

  2. Cernunnos

    The sell off really did expose a weakness in PR for private forestry interests. It has been an issue raised several times as many felt too much was being left to the Forestry Commission who were siding up to the charity methods of PR and leaving timber harvesting out of the equation. I like the Save Our Woods site because when the protest was still live against the selling of PFE the forum had a strong presence from within that sector. I hoped it would continue but there has been little said since. I think you have been right to carry on as I don’t believe that the timber industry has much sway on the ‘Independent’ panel.

  3. Thanks Gordon and Cernunnos, I have been in contact with many people from the timber harvesting sector and they are unanimously angry with what happened during the PFE disposal. The general media ‘take’ was dreadful, the wider myths were left to hang in the air and it was in my opinion only SOW who were trying to seek out truths directly. But there are some brilliant other projects which deserved much more attention than they have been given – particularly Sylva’s One Oak. but many of the others had some form of FC funding and thus have had to keep it zipped and I don’t doubt there would have been a reluctance to get involved anyway.

    The above was scribbled due to a conversation I had with Raymond Henderson, the day after his talk in Perth. He mentioned the old FC magazine which rarely if ever included the timber side of things – which it should have.

    There is clearly stress by some public who witness clearfelling, (and without going into alternative silvicultural practices), there is a simple system used in France and other countries where a temporary sign details the mill and final product. Such a thing would surely be easy to implement at little cost.

  4. Roderick Leslie

    I think you’ve pretty much hit the nail on the head: PR and token stakeholder engagement doesn’t work and people are getting more cynical all the time, rightfully, and I’m one of them. Foresters can struggle to communicate and are hopeless at lying – especially as our mistakes have atendency to persist and persist in the landscape, ! Gradually in FC we realised we really had to talk, that actually ‘real’ people had a point about some of the things they were complaining about – but equally, once you’d broken the defensive barriers what really came out was people’s fascination with the complexity of the balancing trick that forest management is, and the knowledge and commitment of foresters. Its amazing that over the years in FC the antagonism to felling in some of the most sensitive areas of the country has dropped away almost to nothing, and its the same for the best private estates. the secret is in explaining what you are doing and listening to people’s likes a dislikes – its a waste of time trying to persaude people a new clearfell is beautiful – but the point that the forest soon regenerates is often accepted, and even on fresh clearfells an evening Nightjar walk can show its not all bad !

    And the signs ? Fc has been using (note as ever the elegant language !) what are known as ‘temporary operations signs’ since 1990 and this small thing has had a big effect in reassuring people at the point the work’s going on, not later: the biggest concern is always will more trees be planted ? From the beginning I insisted they had the name & number of the individual forester responsible, not just an office number – all about emerging from faceless bureacracy !

  5. Thanks Roderick, I thought I was en route to the Dragons Den with the sign idea, ho hum.. But given the huge surge in UK local news stories re non woodland tree felling, (sometimes with regards a coppice or pollard operation), the lack of an effective communication channel across the board is very evident and this hole is clearly used by some as a mechanism to criticise much wider issues and gain support for completely irrelevant projects. Hen of SOW, I and others have been working on the ForestComms project, which is finally getting close to be unveiled, which should help tremendously in all of this – an independent hub, which will be more palatable to the increasingly cynical public and designed to direct people to the issues and discussion local to them, rather than centralising everything (working alongside all existing websites and online material rather than competing). It’s a worth a shot anyway.

    Many thanks, Pip

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