A Missed Opportunity to Progress UK Forestry?

The announcement of the panel charged with formulating a plan for the future of UK forestry has met with a concerned response and with good reason.

Whilst some of those on the panel are experts in peripheral issues with regards forestry, they are certainly in the minority of a group weighted in favour of a substantial voice from the dominant landowning NGOs’.

There is no voice from the peoples’ campaign opposing public forest estate disposal, no voice from the practitioners, no voice from the urban foresters and local authority tree experts, no voice from the well established and historic tree charities – the Arboricultural Association, International tree Foundation and the Tree Council, there is no voice from the unions, no voice from academia, no voice from the landscape industry (although the inclusion of Shireen Chambers of the ICF is a thankful sight to see as are representatives of the private sector and timber industry).

It is a panel which feels more like a tea room meeting of who’s who personage and a couple of obligatory NGO heavyweights who gain their income at the cost of real progressive multi purpose forestry. A large proportion of the huge funding allocated to conservation targets in the UK over the last 20 years has flowed into the misty echelons of the huge omnipresent UK NGOs, without unfortunately much visible ‘on the ground’ progress, asides from web domination. But these NGOs’ have a self preservation instinct to continue the wastage of funding, preferring to spend on PR and high end salaries whilst creating real damage to the private industry by way of over reliance on volunteers and creating base salaries for ‘countryside’ jobs which consistently remain well below national average salary.

There is little evidence of any serious consideration to the real threats and issues which concern forestry as a whole: Pests; Diseases; Non Native Invasive Species; Sustainable Forest Management Ideals; European & International Obligations and Responsibilities; The Public Perception of Trees and Woodlands; Urban, Peri-urban & Garden Trees & Woodland; Practitioners & the Demise of Skills and Traditional Knowledge.

There was a real opportunity to advance forestry in all its modern terms, an opportunity to avoid repetition of debate centred on outdated principles and an outdated perception of the Forestry Commission.

There was an opportunity to ensure that the real threats to all UK trees and woodlands would be the focal point of discussion.

There was an opportunity to redress the disparity between our urban and rural landscape and progress ideals set within the European Landscape Convention to ensure that all UK citizens benefit from the landscape without risking that landscape.

This is a rural panel with a majority mindset of a 60s quintessential English countryside landscape ideal, which was in fact fragmented and with little future towards the enhancement of a sustainable future. The very best we can hope to expect is duplication of previous panels discoveries and subsequent publication.

The virtual absence of the Forestry Commission is alarming. Surely representation from the Forest Enterprise, the Forest Authority and the Forest Research was absolutely essential.

The panel choice certainly hints back to the mindset of those within the government responsible for the initial decision to sell PFE and diminish the Forestry Commission with little knowledge of the wider issues at play. Above all this is a ‘two fingers’ up to the ‘grass roots’ campaign against forest sell off and smells of a deliberate attempt to tell any new lobby group that they will be completely and utterly ignored and therefore the voice of the public will also be ignored.

UK National Ecosystem Assessment: Technical Report, Chapter 8. ‘Woodlands’

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