10 years in the life of a tree is nothing. A few rings of growth, leaf litter deposits, but where, since the scuppered 2011 forest sell-off, has the ‘enterprise’ around trees gone?
I must declare an interest in knotty matters. My father worked for the Forestry Commission (100 years old in 2019) as a District Officer starting in the New Forest and ending in mid Wales. Lucky us as a family being moved around wild, wet, woody parts of Cumbria, west Scotland, north Wales in the name of tree planting and management.
All to increase tree cover from an historic low centuries ago. As if surprising, the UK being the first country in the world to urbanise (over 50% living in cities) in 1861, no wonder we’ve used up all the wood. Burnt for fuel, timber to build ships, prop up industry (coal pit) all lead to a fearful post-WW2 pressure to seek to increase self-sufficiency in timber.
It’s not a clear-cut matter when it comes to the public’s love of trees. Squeamishness towards chainsaws, fussiness on tree species, fear of venturing too far into them (we prefer open woodland savanna), and outrage ensures if contemplating selling public forests.
When, in a wide ranging interview, I asked the then Secretary of State in 2018 about leadership in tree planting from the government, Mr Gove’s reply was luke-warm – mirroring this BBC ‘reality’ check. Some campaigning NGOs may not enjoy any of my five Times letters on ash dieback, but would enjoy my Nature Notebook praising their tree handout.
I realised how selective we are over trees when interviewing another politician. 8 years ago, then Shadow Rural Affairs Min – now Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh gave me her own copy of a government report ‘Combating Climate Change – a role for forests’ (the Read Report). Although no doubt important, it was quite a dense read!
But also slightly inconvenient as to not fitting the current narrative of native species only please or finding much air time in the Agriculture Act.
Woodland business (so much ‘cuddlier’ than forestry industry) is long term
Climate is one of the biggest ‘influencers’.
Beech are finding it harder to survive in the UK. Flooding and wind-blow knock trees down, hot weather incites forest fires in young plantations, and pest-vectored diseases thrive in the UK’s warm damp climate.
Compounding all this are complex wildlife conservation conundrums. Welfare issues over enforced red deer and mountain hare culls; ground-nesting hen harriers and curlews threatened by both habitat loss to afforestation as well as crows and foxes predators venturing out from thick plantations. Red squirrels, goldcrests, fungi all love conifers of any ilk. Merlin, black grouse have adapted to live on the fringes of them and pioneer tree planting is a tool against invasive bracken in the uplands.
A more nuanced form of forest management than ‘plant, thin, clear fell, repeat’. In his own transition in forestry practice, he has been able to critically review a continuum of landscapes ebbing and flowing in response to policy, climate, markets, and public opinion.
(updated Sept 2019, March 21)