Non woodland trees (NWT) are finally starting to be much more widely noticed; daily news flow regarding trees in the landscape from across the UK highlights the growth of a much more positive perception of trees; and there is increasing attention on tree pests and diseases by general media.
Watching (and playing with) social media, it is very evident that there is much more questioning re forestry and trees from a very wide spectrum of interests and a significant amount of attention from the public. Whether it is the same people who campaigned so hard during the PFE disposal furore is impossible to ascertain but there is a large bubble just below the surface ready to burst in protest but only if seriously provoked. The NPPF was not enough to stir real emotion, but issues with regards the felling of trees in a particular locale by those in that location proves this.
Local newspapers which report on such issues tend to get very high hits, often becoming the most popular story of the day or week, but those newspapers that choose simply to reproduce PR do not get such attention.
People love their trees. Policy makers and the so called ‘stakeholders’ can argue all they want about the use of ‘our’ in terms of elements of the landscape, but the fact is that this is now firmly established and I would question the wisdom of any who attempt to change this perception.
Also the people are clearly engaged with the real issues.
A survey by SOW carried out one week last November proved this when 44.9% of 229 respondents stated that Pests, Diseases and Invasive Species were the most important forestry or tree related issue. The full results for that question were:
|Pests, Diseases & Invasive Species||44.9%||101|
|Plantations for sustainable forest products||4.4%||10|
|Habitat creation and conservation||14.2%||32|
|Urban tree planting and maintenance||16.9%||38|
Many of those involved in PR have had a serious ‘bashing’ with regards any issue they jump into that involves landscapes and the elements therein. But approaching issues through discussion or open debate remains safe territory.
Ignore the sentiments of the European Landscape Convention and pretend it is not a legal obligation if you wish. Ignore all the heavy weight of academic study from the last 30 years which has discovered, and continues to, that the only way forward is ‘bottom up’ if you wish also. You can even try to pretend to install a ‘bottom up’ approach by the occasional ‘stakeholder workshop’ or another conference ‘open to all’ but it won’t work. People are intrinsically attached to their landscapes, their trees and their forests and they want the real issues dealt with.
We now have all the studies necessary (but not yet exhausted) to prove that the value of trees, their benefits to society and the environment are huge, but what about the economic?
Had ‘money or funding’ been included in the above survey question I do not doubt it would have been one the top answers, as several of the ‘Others’ when asked why, had stated that without the resources in place no other issue was worth contemplating!
That trees increase property values, however true, cuts no ice (particularly in a global economic crisis one of the causes of which was widespread improvident property valuation). Simply focussing on biodiversity values or ecosystem services will not be sufficient either.
The government should be substantially funding forestry, tree planting and maintenance, but they won’t, but neither will they relinquish much control it seems. As such the PR kicks in and decides it is better to ignore the realities of timber production at the same time as having to fell to satisfy governmental demands for timber sales revenue, it is the worst of both worlds and further because the private forestry sector is sidelined and allowed to be demonised.
Last year the French publicity campaign for the International Year of the Forests was huge, posters appeared everywhere with the slogan ‘merci la forêt’, illustrating that all three pillars of sustainable development and more are realised through forestry. To believe that people in the UK do not realise this, is to believe the people are stupid, which far too many people do, despite evidence to the contrary (although as many PR teams on Twitter and elsewhere believe it is better to follow no one except other PR teams – then how the heck will they ever realise).
Can a healthy thriving timber industry help fund NWT, and the planting of new broadleaved woodland? Yes (indirectly) – but only if plantations are accepted also. But a healthy thriving timber industry cannot and should not be expected to also fund a PR machine which solely concentrates on the fringe benefits of multi functional forestry and does nothing to promote timber.
Forestry needs a collective voice, one which lobbies as hard as farming and alongside the arboricultural community. Recognising the difference between non woodland trees / forestry plantations and semi natural woodland is needed, but from a combined voice and fully transparent. The present situation is the other way round and helps nobody.
Many are investing in good shoes to take off from the starting blocks when funding becomes available, perhaps believing that the forestry panel deliberations will release such funds. But we must not allow the limited and now largely discredited timeframe the average city economist thinks in, and to whom Defra seem to favour the advice of (over and above the internationally recognised experts on the subject many of whom are on their payroll!), to infiltrate discussion as this could result in nonsense like ‘biodiversity offsetting’ and the increasingly unethical results of carbon offsetting being flouted as actually having potential to bolster a believed to be ‘failing’ UK forestry sector which is being prevented from demonstrating that it is far from failing it simply is not listened to.