Timber Terroir – Just how good can wood be?

It is heartening to watch the strong push towards re-establishing a ‘woodland culture’ in Britain. The disconnection between people and the forest industry has been a problem for a considerable time, which is at the heart of many of the very worst threats facing our forests, trees and the wider landscape. UK Forestry is sustainable and UK arboriculture could be also.

It is nothing short of appalling that the Forestry and Arb industry was effectively usurped, tree planting for the sake of tree planting carried out in the name of nature conservation allowed for a flood of trees, grown in foreign nurseries, to take root across the British landscape. This is not a UKIP thing – it is a simple axiom that the best tree for any particular place is one grown to site specifics, ideally from seed sourced from that location also. The lack of local nurseries and basic forestry knowledge has been lethal to Britain – all for the sake of saving some ‘charity’ money. And the forest industry gets to pick up the pieces and even the blame!

Is it possible to establish an even stronger, localised ‘woodland culture’? One that can directly link communities to the trees and forests in their landscape and at the same time raise the value of timber and non-timber products from their trees?

I often blog about ‘terroir’, it is in my opinion the answer to so much. Official terroir in France is regulated by the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC), You will have seen this stamp on wine, cheese and other products in your local supermarket. It is a stamp that officialises terroir, the linkage of a place to a product and recognises the higher value due to the fact that this place is the very best for this particular product, indeed the only place for this product. Many other countries have similar systems, with the notable exception of the UK – which is daft for a country with such an extraordinary range of factors with influence on the natural elements in the landscape.

One very important aspect of terroir is the strong linkage it installs between place and product – community and industry. You need only drive along a French motorway where huge brown signs declaring the terroir of a landscape dwarf the political boundary signs to realise this.

In a few places in France something very exciting is happening: Forests are seeking an AOC stamp. After research into the soils and other natural factors influencing a particular landscape, tests on the trees are now being carried out to confirm their unique attributes and how these attributes will gain higher value in the supply chain.

Although not a great translation here is a link to some of this work in La Chartreuse.

Many have told me that it would be impossible to transfer ‘Terroir’ as a word, let alone a concept into the UK. I find this tenuous, considering 45% of English words are of French origin anyway but also due to the simple fact that many foresters (and other land management practitioners) are completely au fait with the skills and knowledge required to achieve terroir produce, it is known that the same tree species, both commercially grown or otherwise, have very different attributes when grown in different landscapes. It is just that there is no connection between community and industry and this is widened still further from the NGO crowd, who see such a connection as a threat to themselves as well as they wishing to only push forward their own ‘brand’.

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6 Comments

Filed under Trees and Woodlands

6 responses to “Timber Terroir – Just how good can wood be?

  1. Henrik

    Why do you say ‘UK Arboriculture could be also’ sustainable? Otherwise very intriguing and I believe something that can be used not just in UK.

    • Arb industry is still very much a service industry – whilst forestry is still supply. I have spoken to a number of arbs’ who are frustrated that a great deal of their ‘waste’ is simply just that – waste, when there should be a better market for this ‘produce’ including chippings.

  2. I really like this concept Pip. We can certainly do more to celebrate local character, ecology, people and so on. However, I do think that ‘terroir’ is one of those words that does not work well in the English language. Perhaps it’s too close to ‘terror’ and – dare I say- may make the average Brit feel a little pretentious as it cannot be said without trying to sound really French!

    • Thanks Gabriel. Graeme Willis of CPRE suggested a competition towards discovering a new name for terroir, perhaps not a bad idea. Having lived & worked in France I am aware how pompous French can sound in England – I am guilty of having asked for a ‘Cheese Royale’ in a UK Macdonalds!!

  3. Reblogged this on HortusLudi and commented:
    following on from my recent post about seed saving & local adaptations, I’m reblogging this piece by the inestimable European Trees. He raises essential points regarding the current trend in the UK to plant trees without exploring the lack of locally sourced seedlings & the dominance of transnational nursery production. You could argue that globalisation of horticultural industries is seriously implicated in the transfer of plant diseases across borders; you would need to critically examine how locally sourced & grown trees & other plants have declined as local skills & knowledge have been absorbed & diluted by national & transnational horticultural conglomerates. Alongside this, there is the downgrading & side-lining by national/government bodies of existing skills & knowledge within horticulture & arboriculture sector.
    These are issues I suspect will find their way into a post in the near future.
    Meanwhile, here, European Trees offers a valuable comparison with the situation in France:

  4. Pingback: Timber Terroir - Just how good can wood be? | F...

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