At what point in time exactly?

At one point in the Earths’ history every square metre of the British Isles was covered by trees. Justification to plant trees absolutely everywhere? Absolutely not. But why is there always a presumption in favour of any archaeological feature? And exactly at what point was the zenith for biodiversity in any given location? Why do we allow more weight to any alternative scientific or academic angle above the case for retaining a tree or woodland? As the importance of trees is cited with more frequency and with an interested public hanging on with bated breath, (and are clearly very sensitive about tree removal), we really need much more information placed in the open in order to prevent the costs and stalling due to protest.

England is suffering from drought in February, an unprecedented event. Tree planting is fragile enough without this added problem. We cannot afford to be quite so flippant about tree felling for land use change, when we cannot guarantee successful establishment of new planting as much as we used to. Infant tree mortality rates are rising year on year.  

I understand completely the essential need to include all sciences and areas of academic research in our landscape into forestry and tree management, particularly biodiversity and archaeological issues. But I fear the felling is carried out all too quickly and for me the most upsetting aspect is the lack of post operational investigation, a post mortem which could accelerate our very limited understanding of sub soil processes – particularly in regards roots and built structures.

In relation to the felling of trees at Magog, where an important archaeological discovery led to a controversial decision to clear a ‘memorial’ woodland, (taken from the BBC website) – ‘Dr Will Fletcher, inspector of ancient monuments for English Heritage in the east of England, said: “Archaeology and trees are not good bedfellows and we would seek to remove trees from monuments to protect the archaeology.’’ Okay but why exactly? And when we now know that the public desire much more information than this – is it not essential to expand on this comment. I work with tree roots and often the interface between roots & human activity and or the human built environment and there is serious lack of good research and case study, indeed many archaeological features have been preserved through the protection of being deep in woodland. I don’t doubt the Magog decision was probably correct and there is a lot of information in this case, a rare situation, but it is all little bit too ‘expert’ led from a single angle, thus gaining media interest due to protest.

Many years ago I remember listening to the geologist Dr Kevin Page, who worked with English Nature at the time describing how wonderful it would be if vegetation was wiped clean from many parts of Torbay – he wasn’t seriously advocating this and went on to describe the internal but very useful argument between the various scientific backgrounds working for what is now Natural England. How many NGOs can lay claim to the same invaluable process? And take this interaction across sciences further to include public participation and community engagement you will surely be following the only route available that is going forward. To say it stalls the process or is more costly is nonsense as the alternative practised for too long proves to the contrary and with the web resources we have on hand the dissemination of issues leading ultimately to location specific solutions could be incredibly rapid, by passing general media who are being increasingly caught out (as the Independent were recently when they twisted this invaluable and progressive scientific paper into this story), as well as potential and very costly legal battles or a politically engineered stalemate as we see at the moment in terms of ‘discussion re the future of UK forestry’.

Professor Bengt-Gunnar Jonsson wrote last year in regards Nordic forestry ‘’I am also convinced that we will never come to a final answer. This is not necessarily a problem since it is the discussion itself that is important.’’

Conferences and discussion amongst peers is great, but it is unfortunately no longer acceptable to cocoon each strand of those involved in each of the huge array of issues relating to landscape to closed door meetings. As an example, the forest sell off furore was predicted! To claim the public reaction was a surprise is to claim ignorance of the many academic studies looking at ‘Landscape’ from the wider angle. Instead of trying to continually find an ultimate solution, we should sit easy with the fact that forestry is a science in itself, continually evolving and with a huge amount still waiting to be discovered, researched and established as fact. And it is not just us tree anoraks who are interested; if nothing more is gained from the public furore against the public forest estate sell off plans, it is that the public are very interested too and if they are not fed, huge costs incur and the halting of progression at a time when we can least afford it due to climate changes, will be forthcoming time and time again until all of those involved in policy making get the message.

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1 Comment

Filed under Trees and Woodlands

One response to “At what point in time exactly?

  1. Roderick Leslie

    A very good, thought provoking post.

    There are, i think, two key points that emerge from your thoughts: first, a lot of people increasingly take and ‘end of history’ view of the landscape – the only permitted change is the ever increasing intensification of agriculture which is apparently outside any influence.

    The second is the sectors, whether it is farming, conservation or archaeology: there is a growing repsepct for the people who know more and more and more about less and less – the fascination with ever more detailed factual information, and not just no respect but no recognition for the skills of the people who put it all together – frequently proffessional foresters.

    Probably the greatest challenge I’ve worked on was taking the New Forest forward – an iconic landscape of huge complexity and layer upon layer of history but the ‘New Forest – New Future’ process suceeded – and has subsequently been largely ignored by anyone outside the Forestry Commission which, bluntly, is so far ahead of the game on these issues that the skills involved risk being lost because noone else even understands they exist.

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