Category Archives: Trees and Woodlands

A Face For The Wood

As forestry, arboriculture and lets be honest all land management industries continue to be ignored at best, increasingly usurped, then it is surely time to find a route forward which remains solely in the control of the practitioners.

Europe wide it is the harsh reality, and I have experienced this personally, is that insurance and legal frameworks essential for practitioners (which makes us better than the usurpers) it is virtually impossible for proper collaboration with many NGOs and particularly academic led initiatives, who are NOT insured. Thus it is no surprise to see so many patronising, indeed often insulting, commentary and even guidance fed back to unimpressed practitioners. For example; the call to ensure stock for planting is sourced responsibly! Is this not a given for trained foresters? – as so often the industry is accused of bad practice by those who have committed such practice themselves! It is less of an issue in the UK, where many of the academics are deeply embedded in the industry.

As research into the chains of supply finally get to the point many of us reached a long, long time ago, where it is recognised that publicising the location of the timber, method felled and importantly by whom, we take a great step forward towards the promotion of true sustainable forestry – the principle method in Europe. But how can this be controlled outside the industry?

Many on the periphery of forestry who are social media canny have successfully built up profiles which have enabled the most obscure forest based businesses to rival, financially, timber harvesting at its most profitable.

To post who we are, what we do and – what may sound dangerous to many – why? is an important step towards dispelling any myths anyone (many already have) has about us.

Forestry and Arboricultural are tough professions – advertising our toughness will not gain much attention in a world over flowing with testosterone anyway. We need to highlight our training, our ethics and morals and especially our love of trees – the reason we end up doing what we do.

The more we can cut out the middle man the more respect we gain, the less ‘dubious’ timber is supplied and the more money we make.

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The Trees in Between

In 2015, as in many previous years, it is likely that more trees will have been destroyed than in any year before. We are part of a global civilisation that are cutting down the future survival of future generations. Any parent surely should be conscious that the economic model we are following will simply kill off our children.

There is hope – in many parts of Europe, particularly the south, huge swaths of the landscape are now forest where once there wasn’t. These massive forests, naturally regenerating in areas once barren from tiny pockets that were able to protect against centuries of merciless grazing and bolstered by planting of non natives, have a burgeoning wildlife population that is accelerating into numbers more in line with medieval times.

And this new landscape, created by humans, is utterly dependent on humans for it’s future.


Even in populated areas the landscape is becoming an arboreal one. The remnant pockets of olive groves are actually more than there were. The places in between, riddled with substantial development, have been planted with trees – replacing the scrub evident in old photographs and still fresh in the minds of older generations. Never before has there been better chance for these people to witness Wolves, wild Boar and Chamois on their own property. Albeit smaller, scrawnier and often unhealthy animals seeking out food in the bins and manicured gardens as there own proper habitat is less fruitful.


In the UK, it is the garden landscape where optimism can be found. The tree cover of our gardens is generally ignored by policy makers and NGO people, save some excellent organisations. But it’s here that provides the example of how the British people can and have successfully blended environmental and ecological needs into the modern economy of that area.

The huge, vast sums of money paid into UK nature conservation is quite unbelievable to many foreigners especially as there seems little progress as a result. Ideals such as ‘Re Wilding’ provide a welcome boost when money is tight – but the science is lacking. Surely the soils and landscapes proposed are far too changed and the result at best will be wildlife heavily dependent on charity rather than in symbiotic relationship with human operations in the landscape. Re-wilding is surely little more than a cruel to animals, misanthropic, idealism that does little more than divide even further those in nature conservation and the farming community at a time it can be ill afforded.

To concentrate first on what works is sensible and will engage many more people, rather than further duping them with unrealistic dreams. The trees they plant are just as important. And further if there was better joined up thinking help towards providing a base of green waste suitable for energy? It would be interesting to see how much garden waste goes to landfill or on the bonfire in comparison with the timber exported from US forests and elsewhere to keep our power plants burning.

As the UK heads towards possible exit from the EU it is important to remember that UK conservationists have in blithely ignoring what is happening elsewhere in Europe, added fuel to the exit campaign.

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Flailing an Orchard!! Whose fault is it really?

2 days ago, my son and I travelled to some nearby woods to catch a glimpse of the wild boar there. En route we passed a field with many new born lambs, their mothers and a herd of deer also. Close to where we stopped there was an unusual bird of prey, easily identifiable later in the guidebook as a Booted Eagle. Another to add to our now extensive list of wildlife spotted.

One of the factors in moving to France was to allow my son the opportunity I had when growing up, to not only catch glimpses of special wildlife but to live in an area where water meadows, ancient woodland and clear life brimming rivers and streams were within walking distance.

It was clear, very quickly after moving here, that these now rare habitats in the UK are kept alive in perpetuity here in France by the same people many blame for their disappearance in the UK: Farmers.

The myths (downright lies in many cases) which now float around the ether in regards the problems facing landscapes have become one of the greatest problems by themselves. Having had the time to talk to a cross section of those with an interest in their rural landscape it was apparent that media; both social and general, had strayed so far from reality that it would have been good to hear that it was irrelevant – unfortunately its not! And it is what now feeds policy making, compounding the problems continually.

For example; on one quango website there is a statement that the economy of the South Hams is dependent on Agriculture, Fishing and Tourism. This is simply not true. The agricultural industry of the area (and fishing) is almost negligible. Therefore the base economics are simply being brushed aside and any all national solutions offered up, championed on social media and paid for by charitable grants cannot work. The only real solutions are those born within a landscape itself specifically for that landscape, which by default will consider the real economics at play from the start – which requires strong involvement from the farming community.

The farming community have been shouting the need for good technical advice for years now. Their industry is changing so rapidly having been undressed in the arena of global economics and the need for a strong innovative push has been usurped, easily, by the large multinational pesticide and GM companies – who have grown so powerful that they are able to manipulate the chasms they used to gain power.

But as farmers are increasingly demonised, without any consideration of the real economics we see an increasingly belligerent stand by them, which results in real damage in the landscape. Monbiot et al, are forcing farmers into a corner where they are then forced to commit the malfeasant practice they stand accused of, and readily accept the spiel offered to them by multinationals pesticide corporations as a defence barrier.


This image of a flailed orchard acutely highlights this problem. This orchard should be profitable – a valuable local asset and a source of secondary funding. Rather than accusing the landowner of malpractice should we not be considering why it was sanctioned? I bet it is due to economic realities, with the fact that there was little choice when there isn’t the money to pay for the technical guidance and workforce to do the work properly. However there always seems to be plenty of money towards discussing this problems!

If we are to provide wildlife and access for all to it, then we need to provide the money to those who own and manage the land, rather than siphoning this away to continue paying for discussion that only further pushes the farmer into a corner. If this means paying more for their products then so be it. If you want to be a patriot then don’t vote UKIP – buy British and help restore its beautiful landscape.


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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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Coastal Trees & Woodland

During the stormy winter of 2013/14 the UK’s coasts were battered, infrastructure was destroyed and geological features disappeared. Storm upon storm dumped huge quantities of salt water unto the land. On average the western coastal counties get up to 80kg of salt per hectare per annum. Last year this figure was closer to 200kg. So how did our coastal trees fare? Surprisingly well it seems, although the respite this winter is clearly welcome.

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There were some victims, particularly conifers where the salty winds resulted in discolouration, which proved too ugly for some and thus were felled for ‘aesthetic’ reasons.

The resilience of our coastal trees, both native and non-native, is quite extraordinary and as a Devon based forester stated to me ‘We are missing a trick in not studying these trees more closely’. These trees put up with more than we should expect of them – hugely fluctuating soil microbe populations, extreme climate conditions, unstable soils etc,. And the greatest problem with studying coastal trees is ‘which tree or woodland type do you choose from?’. The choices are as eclectic as the multitude of factors which affect coastal trees.

And there is an image problem also – what tree do we have in our heads when we think of coastal trees?

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There is no ‘common’ tree, no one type for the British to expect when they flock in millions to the coast. Unlike other countries, for example in France where Pine trees are the habitual both on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.


Henri Rivière

Throughout the period that the coast has attracted all classes of British, attempt after attempt has been made to try and establish a standard surrounding our coastal towns and cities. From mimicking the Greek olive groves with Ilex aquifolium, or the French scattered Pines, through to that most emblematic tree of the perceived modern beach landscape; Palms.

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The vast range of site specific factors conspire against nationwide ‘advice’ on suggested amenity coastal species, and it is wonderful that this matches the rich variety of native coastal trees and woodland.

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Human intervention, for whatever purpose, largely fails as the costs for management are so high. Whatever anyone wishes to achieve, be it a specific habitat for selected wildlife conservation or to create the ‘golf course’ landscape, some feel is best appropriate for this unique in every mile stretch of land that frames Britain, nature will make things difficult.


So instead of continuing this costly to all ‘King Canute’ stance, can we not instead accept these coastal trees and woodland at face value and as extraordinary assets in understanding our trees and woodland everywhere. An exemplar of the in-between trees and woodland that many malign so much yet hold many secrets towards the use of trees in sustaining the places that we choose to live in.

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Soil Valuation – Ecosystem Services Vs Terroir.

I’ve recently been having to plough through a plethora of research and other bumf relating to ‘Sustainable Intensive Agriculture’. I started sceptically and ended up completely bewildered, it seems to be little more than the redrafting of good practice guidance honing in on marginal land to justify continued bad practice everywhere else. And as with ‘Ecosystem Services’, ‘Landscape Approach’ and even ‘Sustainable Development’, the actual meaning from the researchers has been twisted beyond recognition once it is fed back to land management practitioners and landowners.

One cannot fault the push towards agricultural enlightenment from academics, but this appears to backfire consistently and I agree wholeheartedly with those that say that this is due to continually ignoring the economics, something the large pesticide companies do not do and it is also true that these companies, which have infiltrated land management at all levels, can easily conquer the division created by an Ecology Vs Farming fight, which the media are keen to perpetuate.

Dave Goulson states;

 “Surprisingly few studies have simultaneously compared profitability and biodiversity benefits across farming systems, yet this is the fundamental trade-off in food production.”

Take the valuations estimated for ecosystem services to most policy makers and they will ask how to tap into these financial values, take them to a farmer and they’ll ask if it is leading to supplementary payments. In the government drive to build Singapore on England’s green and pleasant land, this situation will of course be addressed by ill thought out initiatives such as ‘Biodiversity Offsetting’. When thinking through such initiatives, it doesn’t take long to figure this is a one off, very low payment, which in the long term, if significant interest is taken, will leave a legacy of land dependent on charity, which will upset land values for future generations. There will be pressure from the Nature Conservation lobby to realise something from the work on ‘Natural Capital’ – but there is ultimately only one benefactor; themselves, which would leave only more fragmented islands of higher biodiversity surrounded by intensive agriculture or development and fits in well with the current, rapid, English move towards dividing landscapes; the protected and the ordinary, contrary to the European Landscape Convention.

In France there has been a huge focus on ‘green corridors’, the idea that pockets of isolated rich biodiversity will ensure the survival of home species is rightly dismissed – even in the urban landscape. It works, wildlife is thriving – indeed most ‘conflict’ is now due to wildlife populations that are thriving all too well. It is important to also note that nature conservation has a vastly reduced budget than in the UK. I once heard an LPO man (French equivalent to RSPB) say that with the money the UK Nature conservationists gain from crowd funding, they could buy ‘half the country’.

Also important to note is that having a rich migratory biodiversity is very much in tune with the traditional established concept of terroir. And to avoid anyone ‘googling’ terroir and coming up with endless US based wine snobbery blogs or the somewhat lacking wikipedia definition ‘A Sense of Place’, I offer my own definition: Terroir is the value of soil and all that helps create and maintain the soil in particular location towards a taste, it is a marriage of all the sciences, social and earth, it is all natural and man made elements in a landscape and you and what you taste, smell, hear and see.

It is interesting to see academics extolling ‘ecosystem services products’, thus clearly illustrating that they have ‘ecosystem services’ established in their heads as the French have in regards ‘terroir’. However as much of their work still remains secret and badly disseminated it is not gaining any ground as an English definition for terroir. Nor does it help towards illustrating the economics of a terroir system and how this could be of huge financial benefit for all in the rural cultural landscapes of the UK and elsewhere. Knowledge transfer is key – but this cannot work unless money is discussed.

How much of the annual produce for the whole of a large English county, (Yorkshire, Devon or Norfolk), could sustain in hours the city of London? Not long – certainly much less than a day. And in most of these counties, indeed for all of rural England, the agricultural sector is too small to register in regional GDP statistics. Lets be honest about it – intensive agriculture to compete with abroad just isn’t working, it is as though British farming is still obsessed with the effects of WWII and rationing. Forestry, long ago, moved on from the need to grow timber for wartime resilience – it is high time agriculture did also.

Britain needs to follow the money and this is not with the supermarkets but the super rich. The range of soils in Britain is the richest anywhere in the world, it is capable of producing the highest quality foods – terroir produce. Instead of trying to compete with a French Brie by producing an English Brie – just go with what the soil gives you and celebrate your place in naming that product.

I live in a region in the Poitou-Charentes famous for it’s wide range of aperitif’s, different from commune to commune. The high quality local products are often made by hedgerow fruits and are sometimes not just a supplementary income but double, even triple. I have brought back aperitifs from Devon to French friends, who are happy to state these drinks are as good as their own. One only has to look at the Whisky industry to see the benefits in this. Good quality alcohol sells well.

And terroir doesn’t end with food and drink. The ‘local crafts’ industry is strong in France and non timber forest products fetch realistic prices, not the ‘knock down’ price many English craftsmen and women have to suffer because the public compare prices with Poundland imports. Indeed in France, forests are being awarded their own AOC status!

Within terroir areas the French landscape and biodiversity contained within it is protected automatically. Whilst in the UK there is still round table discussion on diversification where ‘tourism’ seems the only solution – are tourists really going to help fund new hedgerows or even pay towards maintaining existing ones? You need to sell the tourists something from that landscape, which in turn pays for work in preserving that landscape and most importantly preserving the soil for future generations.

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Allotments, Soil and Farm Terrace, again.

English politicians, particularly in local politics, have a strong record in blithely ignoring international initiatives towards promoting environmental and landscape issues. And Central Government are happy to ratify many conventions and incorporate the text into national strategies, only to brush it all aside when a political ‘think tank’ suggests otherwise. The Public Forest Estate sell-off during the International Year of the Forests 2011 was a classic example.

2015 is the International Year of the Soil. Do not expect to read much about the concentrated efforts of research and awareness happening across the globe in regards this still relatively unknown, but known to be absolutely vital natural element we are dependent on. Very little has changed since Leonardo Da Vinci claimed “We know more about the movement of celestial bodies than about the soil underfoot.” in the 16th Century. And as Britain builds her way out of the economic downturn of recent years it is understandable that many politicians will avoid any focus on the importance of soil.

Healthy soils in the urban and peri-urban landscape are of optimum importance. Allotments, (usually bequeathed to a community through philanthropic channels), tick all the boxes in being the best of the best to the extent that in many places researchers studying solutions to aid all of humanity in achieving sustainability are concentrating on these islands of soil and how they have been managed.

Whilst a national argument in regards development rages between green field and brown field, and a burgeoning realisation of the threats posed by the Infrastructure Act (It is quite unbelievable how so many missed the implications of this bill when the details were published on the day of the Queen’s speech – indeed many NGO PR teams actually stated on social media at the time that all was good!!) allotments are excluded. Allotments should be sacrosanct, surely? But it seems that they are first places to be considered by many councils and even the Church of England seeking to profit from the construction boom.

Those fighting for their allotments have exposed the many loopholes and ambiguity of existing legislation in regards allotments. It is clear that there needs to be clearly defined legislation in place and the Save Farm Terrace campaigners headed up by Sara Jane Trebar are about to launch a campaign for this legislation.

Farm Terrace, for the 3rd time following 2 successful legal challenges against a decision ttodevelop on their allotments, have to fight yet again as the Liberal Democrat Mayor of Watford (Nick Clegg, leader of the Libdems once stated “We have a duty to look after our natural habitat for future generations and our manifesto will show that only the Liberal Democrats can be trusted to deliver a greener and sustainable society.”) champions a new submission to develop on their plots. It is the most bizarre of situations; highly tenuous PR, a severe lack of consultation, internet trolling by councillors, a war of words which make it fairly obvious that the Mayor simply doesn’t like allotments and an absolute ignorance of all modern and historic research in regards the importance of allotments and the community they serve. The belligerence of the Mayor in her determination to concrete over these plots is baffling considering the costs incurred to local taxpayers – some of whom will be donating towards the Farm Terrace cause also.

When done and dusted the whole affair will at least make a great case study for all. In the meantime good luck to Farm Terrace and others in their campaign to finally get proper legislative protection for all allotments in England and Wales, before there are none left.


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