In the square kilometre around my house 95% of the view in a 360⁰ vista has a tree lined horizon. On a map or even with satellite imagery this fact is far from certain. The lateral view is vital in determining not only the real wealth of the trees in this landscape, but more importantly an accurate assessment of what timber is truly available, without inflicting major aesthetic damage. The rotation of felling is planned not from overhead charts but on the ground from chosen vistas; everyone can comment and many do.
There is a huge range of woodland type, silvicultural management practice and individual trees, but the majority of felling is long rotation coppice of assorted species. Approximately just under 1000m³ per annum is coppiced or felled, with the vast majority going to firewood, packaged up in ‘steres’ (roughly 1m³).
A lot of the brush is chipped and used after drying for woody biomass to heat the school, church and municipal buildings.
It is system that has little input from policy makers, or anyone else outside of the commune. It is not a tourist area and as such there is no need to ‘cater’ for visiting hordes, (France retains its top spot for tourism year on year – there is a strong argument that the attraction is because of the traditional land use).
There is over riding legislation, which is strongly adhered to. These private woodlands all have mandatory basic management plans and for example recently there was a call to retain a percentage of deadwood, which landowners followed to the letter. Recent calls to increase felling have not faced substantial opposition, on the contrary, as the woodlands can afford it and the owners are set to make more money boosting the local rural economy further without much additional pressure on the existing woodlands (it has also prompted immediate significant non subsidised new planting by many farmers).
It is a perfect sustainable land use model, but it is not unique, this is a very average rural French commune and not one with high forest cover. It cannot be used as a case study for England, because there are simply not enough trees in England. But it cannot be ignored because as English policy makers try (without much success) to embrace even the concept of sustainable development, they need to consider to look beyond their own boundaries for supply of sustainable timber and woody biomass and France is the closest and easiest country to buy from.
The long term solution as everyone knows is mass tree planting across the whole of the UK. But this is made virtually impossible, not by the threat of pests, diseases, and non natives, neither due to climate change and droughts in February, but because the system is so inherently politicised and top down that even when considering a bottom up approach it cannot be done so without control and further acronymed experimentation in designated patches (and not until any particular NGO or individual gets their blinkered approach installed in legislation), all of which requires a degree to understand the language involved.
All the while other pressures run amok and uncontrolled. The lust for timber to supply the surge of wood burners is a threat not just to woodland and garden trees but also in destroying the livelihood of the foresters, (try stealing a roadside stere of timber in France you need to expect to be treated as though you had smashed the window of a Jewellers’).
The fixation on trying to find the impossible – an all embracing policy for trees and woodland in England, combined with the both the cuts to the only organisation that provided a control and policing element in protecting rural woodland (the FC) and the increased demand for timber has created a perfect storm for Englands’ trees and woodland, without even beginning to add in the threats from pests, diseases and non native invasive species.
The only progression seen in the UK, (asides from the FC model which had designed itself to not only cope with but further forestry within the overly politicised and NGO infested system), is from those who have simply just got on with it, from small woodland owners, through to the multinational private forestry sector. And it is the landowners, the remnants of the FC, the private forestry sector, practitioners and the public themselves who provide the only tangible barrier to preventing widespread abuse of all trees and woodland.
This is why England needs a bottom up approach, policy based on local landscapes, because there is simply no other choice. And it is not a new political ideal linked to Big Society or an alternative to experiment with – it is the only workable solution that exists.