What a week for forestry: The Forest Europe ministerial conference proved to be as progressive as many had predicted, a legally binding agreement for forests across international boundaries is almost a certainty – The conference was probably one of the most progressive of any recent environmental conference, maybe the words of so many foresters that massive assistance in the fight against combating climate change, without major costs has finally been heard. On Thursday, we awoke to the announcement of the formation of the ‘One Forest’ (ginger group to the UK independent forestry panel), a much needed and powerful voice to address the exclusion of a public voice on the panel. Given all recent research, the ideals of sustainable forest management and the history of good forestry practice as well as of course the ideals of the European Landscape Convention, (all proven by the public anger at PFE disposal), the absence of a public voice was one of the most shameful and shortsighted decisions in modern land management history .
We are now given the chance to really voice our concerns and in many cases our knowledge through to policy makers, without the risk of misinterpretation or worse simply being ignored as there were few on the panel in a position to truly understand such opine.
This brings us into a new stage where the need to successfully and succinctly introduce the role of modern forestry to the public to ensure that they can make the decisions. Forest Communication was a hot topic at the FE ministerial conference and has been subject to much discussion, interpretation and attempts at implementation in recent years; with little effect. To paraphrase Eduardo Rojas-Briades, (Assistant Director General FAO), unlike meat or other agricultural processes where the middle ugly bit from landscape to plate is missed out, the scar left from felling a tree is unavoidable and the processes are clearly visible, indeed noisy too. We have seen all too often the headlines of public outcry during normal efficient and necessary forest or arboricultural work but there is little to protect the practitioner from a barrage of criticism. There is no point giving the public their landscape to them unless they are able to judge between good or bad management and all too often bad management is confused with good and areas rich in biodiversity are considered poor. Coupled with an extra problem of a distinct lack of transfer knowledge between the academics and research and the on the ground practitioners the subsequent problem faced by the UK in trying to convince the public, the largest stakeholder of all, is virtually impossible. Further and most destructively it leads to the public themselves withholding many solutions.
The more the ever growing numbers of associations and interested groups talk about solving such issues the more they become disenfranchised with those they seek to engage with. This is the biggest problem with what is now a competitive NGO scenario. The desire to dominate will only lead to accusations no matter whether they are justified or not. Finances will be scrutinised and at a time when the government are saying there is absolutely no funding, the need to follow ‘big society’ ideals, (although we can all ignore the hype and publicity that surrounds what is simply yet another organisation forming a barrier in such ideals), is actually a necessary evil. Clear cut manifestos by all organisations are needed and any duplicity should be instantly pounced upon if simply for the good of that organisation.
To many of the public, and certainly to practitioners, sustainable = cheap. To many of the land owning NGOs’ and others cheap = volunteers, but the practitioner will quickly tell you that on the whole this isn’t true. Volunteers need a role in sustainable land management for their own benefit, but as soon as this becomes a commodity on the account books of an organisation they have lost their way. Worse when the practitioner is replaced by the volunteer and the transfer of knowledge is fed to volunteers, (assumed to be the public by managers) the relationship so sorely needed to engage with public disappears and a dictatorial situation starts.
Should it not be the practitioner his or herself introducing themselves and the work to the public directly, with only the requirement to feed back up the line when suggestions of calibre are made?
The current situation where the communicators, from a PR, media or even banking background have the power to determine the role of the practitioner, who is actually qualified to do the work, has usually spent significant money on insurance and equipment and does the job because they love it, can no longer be tolerated.
There is a strong argument that the residue of all the UK landscape that is left of any real worth in modern sustainable landscape terms (and which most of has been absorbed into a designation of some form or another), is there because the practitioners have protected it as such. And UK forests are the value they are now, despite constant intervention by successive governments and media led policy, because the foresters themselves chose to ensure there was enough residue of good practice left on the ground in the form of all attributes cited in SFM terms. Why else was the FC able to transform so rapidly into the entity it is respected for being it is today if not simply because the foresters were given the chance to do not only what they did best, but what they loved to do. And I am sure that they would be happy to explain this if allowed to, but not via social media, because they are simply too tired after a increasingly hard day out in the forests where wi-fi thankfully is still largely unavailable.