Question 1 – What do forests and woods mean to you?
As a forester, forests and woods are simply my life. I have been very privileged to be in a position which has allowed me to work with trees and help discover attributes of trees in realising sustainable solutions to urban problems; in particular their extraordinary abilities to help remediate substantial damage caused by development. The amount of knowledge we gain with regards the importance of trees is growing all the time, particularly as trees evolve in response to human activity.
Question 2 – What is your vision for the future of England’s forests and woods?
England’s forests and woods cannot be isolated from those in neighbouring countries. The threats are common to all and as trees are not subject to national boundaries, policies should not be also.
The English population have been very stoic and patient and allowed the Forestry Commission to develop to a point where it is now simply essential, (although name changes and merging with Natural England makes sense). The UK was one of the leading countries in the actual implementation of Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) and as such is closely watched from abroad. Any regressive proposals will have ramifications beyond English or even UK boundaries. Thus a governmental agency born out of the FC, with an increased remit beyond the rural landscape would be desirable for the security of all trees beyond national boundaries.
In a country which has historically embraced centralisation it will be difficult to hand power to local policy makers, but it must be. Whilst realising the fact as mentioned above that ‘an all embracing’ forest and nature agency would be a good thing, the power of localised groups will help to ensure that ‘landscape’ is finally given its rightful place at the top of all future agenda. This is vital for 3 reasons;
1. The landscape belongs to the people and the people to it; the European Landscape Convention is a tool for policy makers to relinquish some burdens on any centralised authority and will also save costs as it is cheaper to create policy with the local population than introduce and revise according to local objection.
2. Practitioners and contractors in both forestry and landscaping sectors are disenfranchised. There is a huge base of skills and knowledge which can help to protect against pests, diseases and non native invasive species. The UK forestry and landscaping sector is still largely made up of smaller businesses that provide socio and economic advantages to all local communities. Empowering them by way of using them to help thwart threats is vital and again cost saving.
3. The management of trees and woodland is not confined to national boundaries but localised ‘earth and social sciences’ create factors that mean that centralised ‘one size fits all’ tree planting and maintenance guides are ineffective. Given that all new woodland creation is deemed good, no matter for what purpose from game to carbon, it must not be allowed to fail by ignoring localised factors. Further blanket designations do not work, a library of knowledge for site specific planting to ensure success exists – use it.
Question 3 – What do you feel to be the benefits of forests and woods to:
a) you personally; They provide an income and a landscape for me to be utterly content with my life.
b) society as a whole; The health and welfare benefits are under rated, in many urban / peri urban environments the ‘underground’ root and soil relationship creates a scenario which can almost be deemed symbiotic with human lifestyle. We are yet to fully understand just how important trees are to all animals including humans.
c) the natural environment; Trees are an emblem of the natural environment. They create the natural environment, even when they disappear the detritus left helped create the majority of non sylvan natural habitats worth conserving.
d) the economy; A sustainable future can only be realised through the use of timber, both as a construction material and an energy source.
Question 4 – We would like to hear about your suggestions of practical solutions and good practice which can be replicated more widely.
I answered some of this in Question 2. I would like to be reassured that the work and research, both by the Forestry Commission and others is fully assimilated by the forestry panel.
I would also like to reassured that relevant academic research both UK and European is absorbed into decision making.
As in France and elsewhere diversification is as important in forest management as it is in agriculture. It is vital to encourage private forest owners to seek solutions to achieving Multi Functional Forestry, beyond the somewhat limited boundaries of a heavily conservation based land management sector.
For example; we know that hunting, for right or wrong, will gain disapproval – yet it is a need to help control pests. The new and fast growing leisure activity ‘bushcraft’ is a possible source of both revenue and a solution to pest management. Engaging with the forest as well as barbequing a grey squirrel / rabbit is surely a win- win situation for both landowner and community.
Question 5 – What do you see as the priorities and challenges for policy about England’s forests and woods
The challenges are the current and future threats to all trees and woodlands. The sectors responsible for the spread of pathogens must be held to account more; for example in a bizarre paradox some elements of the horticultural industry have actually been criticising forest management trying to halt the spread of P. Ramorum.
We need continued and enhanced research as the priority.