A Tale of Two Forest Landscapes (and why the UK Forestry Panel has been compromised).

France – The ideals of the International Year of the Forests and Sustainable Forest Management have spread into mainstream French advertising and fashion (despite the oxymoron which occurs when placing these industries in the same sentence as one that contains the word sustainable).

A forested horizon, the interior of a woodland canopy or simply the form of a far from simple tree have replaced many, (or more often combined), the image of a scantily clad or nude female form, used to advertise everything from cars, clothes, cosmetics and of course political parties.

This is result of a genuine celebration of trees and forests by the majority of the French population and together with many other EU states, this celebration is not a result of huge public expenditure, but the results of a genuine desire to re connect with forests and trees, which had been building up for many years and the IYF became the ideal platform to provide a time to introduce and embrace a new mode.

The drought in France, (at this date worse than the 1976 drought) and preceding harsh winter, combined with the threats to trees – pathogens, pests and fire, which have received substantial media coverage, have created a fear of losing large quantities of trees and thus aroused a passion to conserve and enhance forests and trees. In Paris I have witnessed several occasions when residents have been taking water to their younger street trees. Of course the water shortage has proved to be a massive problem for the many younger trees, following a successful season for all tree nurseries with many indigenous trees sold out; there has been a frantic effort to ensure their survival whilst waiting for some rain.

Home grown timber product sales have increased dramatically: >36% for many exterior timber products.

The trees in Westminster Cathedral during the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge scored a palpable hit, where a ‘So British’ trend (in Paris it is hard to find a shop window not adorned with a plethora of Union Jacks and the Royal Wedding was on all the major TV channels in full) combined with the new ‘merci la foret’ trend. Consequently the idea that indigenous trees have cultural and spiritual meanings and a rich heritage intertwined with people has penetrated the French psyche also. As a result, with all our new contracts a full exploration of these aspects of the trees, combined with the soil and climatic conditions is desired by the client – now my bookcase contains copies of Celtic tree symbolism and other such titles bought from a Totnes bookshop crammed in amongst authors such as Cyril Hart, N D G James & Rackham.

French schoolchildren are being bussed out to Forests to ensure the next generation will experience and connect with trees and introduced to the fact that forests are as vital to health and life as the blood within them or food at their table. There is a strong belief and indeed envy by many French, which has a truthful base that the British continue to have an unparalleled connection with nature and landscapes. This belief has been upheld for many years by the domineering presence of British academics and scientists, continuing a trend of several centuries, within pan – European circles. Famous British tree men are regularly quoted in France, particularly Richard St. Barbe Baker, Ebenezer Howard & Oliver Rackham, despite their names being somewhat hazy at best in the minds of the average Englander.

It is also believed in France that the cultural and spiritual rituals and celebrations found in many parts of the UK had survived despite of the church and even flourish across the UK to this date. Of course this is now all untrue or under threat:

England – The movement against proposed public forest sales led to some hopes that the steady decline in the average British psyche with regards their connectivity to trees and woodlands would be reversed have proved to be false hopes.

“But with this reinvigorated awareness, it would be a great shame to watch it dissipate. There must be opportunities for people to turn the energy we have seen into a movement that will benefit generations. This is the challenge we now face: harness that power and we will have an invincible force” Pauline Black Buchanan, Director General – The Tree Council, wrote in ‘Tree News’.

The awareness has now largely dissipated. Why? – there certainly appears to be proof that the selection of representatives on the Forestry Panel has led to diminishment of interest, citing the generally held belief that our leading NGOs will now be able to do the right thing for us. In previous blogs I have referred to the NGO presence within the industry as being possibly malfeasant to the industry both private and public; particularly in terms of modern sustainable land management ideals. In truth this is unfair and many NGOs have had a rightful place amongst all other interested parties. There is however an exception and further it is only an element of one of the existing NGOs – The Woodland Trust PR team and the peripheral staff who sanction their actions.

Criticism levied at the Woodland Trust when they decided to self congratulate themselves publically as being solely responsible for the coalition U turn with regards PFE disposal was fair. Together with paying for top ranking google listings against keywords including ‘Forestry Commission’, the fact that there was an attempt and clearly a successful one to manipulate the campaign to advance funding was obvious. The income they received would justify such statements if their subsequent actions were honourable. But with the presence of their Chief on the Forestry panel, their continued lobbying with regards issues set for the panel is questionable. Furthermore when the panel decided to carry out their own mini consultation to allow the voice of the public to be heard; it was not only advertised on the Woodland Trust website but even included a program where your statements could be forwarded by the WT themselves. This is no longer questionable but corrupt.

During the PFE consultation the WT were advertising for ‘Native Woodland Creation Officers’, an admirable vacancy were it not that the Forestry Authority provided this service. And given the funding to the WT where a considerable amount of money is set aside for publicity and administration is it not dubious that they would consider duplicating roles provided by the FC yet also afford to dominate publicity with regards all forestry related matter in England? If there was no complicity with the government in the laid out plans for PFE disposal as we have been told – their actions make little sense more than a simple urge to dominate and gather as much funding as possible. However the public appear to have been duped. The safety of our woodlands is secured by the WT and we need not concern ourselves with further campaigning and further connection with English woodland is assured albeit with an omnipresence of a WT honesty box and a fleece clad warden. Sue Holden stated that the panel must not be seen to be ‘reinventing the wheel’ I fear that any notion of circular motion is absent from the agenda in terms of real SFM and landscape issues in line with the French and other nations.

The clear manipulation to dominate the panel by the WT together with the decision to progress with FC cuts by Defra leaves little doubt that the Forestry Panel cannot produce an independent opinion that will form the backbone of any policy decision and can do little more than propose direct funding to private landowners including the NGOS and hefty compensation for those affected by pathogen outbreaks.

It may just be that the UK fashion and advertising industry, as it often copies French fashion, will ironically prove to be the vehicle to regain the general publics interest and allow for all UK citizens to join in with the IYF celebrations with the knowledge that without Britain SFM and modern thinking with regards landscapes in the rest of world would not exist. But to undo the regression of SFM and landscape ideals in the UK is fast becoming unlikely. But unfortunately even if this were to happen will it only be that for every new pair of knickers bought a percentage is donated to the WT, which will fund further campaigns to commit other companies to the same scheme?

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “A Tale of Two Forest Landscapes (and why the UK Forestry Panel has been compromised).

  1. Thank you for an excellent post in which you ask some very pertinent questions.

    The French reaction to the International Year of Forests was very interesting to read about, and provided a fascinating contrast to the UK experience.

    I think the whole issue of the public forest estate and its disposal is very much alive, despite the present Government probably wishing otherwise. Anyone with an interest in this issue is advised to keep a look out for some interesting new developments within the next couple of weeks.

  2. Jay Flattery

    Great post and as Gabriel says some very pertinent questions. Intrigued by possible future revelations. Where is the best place to keep an eye open on?

    The WT needs to confirm who they are? what they want? and what they plan to do? At the moment they seem to be everywhere but without any substance.

  3. In the first instance, Joy, my blog .
    Gabriel

  4. Well Said,
    The UK government in setting out its austerity measures has so many of our NGO’s such as the Woodland Trust (Lets call them Ancient Woodlands Trust as that seems to be their principle remit),and the various Wildlife Trusts running for cover as they see their grants/fees from government sources being withdrawn/reduced. This state of affairs seriously brings into question their independance of thought and purpose.
    Also in immediately declaring that the Forestry Commission is to be downsized by 25%, the move is already afoot to ensure this so called “Independant Panel” produces a report much in line with what was shot down by the Save Our Woods Campaign and others, for the much reduced FC will be considered too small to cope!!! Maybe the Woodland Trust and the Wildlife Trusts can step in too fill the gap, experience tells me this will be disatrous. It is time they came out in support of their original ideals, not the corporate business models they have become.

  5. Thanks for the comments and I will await with intrigue the developments from Gabriel Hemery.
    I am now further upset by the complete abuse of the forestry panel by the WT to dominate its remit. The use of their own website, in what is effectively a mini online consultation direct to the panel does not follow OECD guidelines and considering the halt of the official consultation by FC and Defra (for which Ms Holden took full credit for halting), it is alarming that they now feel it is correct to do this.
    http://www.oecd.org/document/40/0,3746,en_2649_34495_37539752_1_1_1_1,00.html
    The whole process has been either hijacked or deliberately manipulated to play to the WT’s tune. Okay – this may be acceptable in so far that it is in tune with the French use of the forest in advertising to sell products, but they are a charity and as you say John, I fear they have confused this role with that of a corporation and a corporation who are unaware of competition rules – or perhaps all too aware, given the corporate background of their board. There are monstrous irregularities going on here, which must stop to enable security of our trees, woodlands and forests in all terms of SFM.

  6. Pingback: La France et ses forêts | Gabriel Hemery

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