My woodland is coming up to 10 years. In the life of a tree that’s nothing. A few rings of growth, leaf litter deposits, wind snapped branches. But for something so long-term, where has brave ‘enterprise’ on 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, a family moved around wild, wet, woody, midge-ridden parts of Cumbria, Scotland, and Wales!
All to increase tree cover from an historic low centuries ago. As if this is surprising. The UK was the first country in the world to kick start urbanisation (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 led 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 knotty trees. Squeamish towards chainsaws, fussy on tree species, fearful of venturing too far into them (we prefer open woodland savanna). Outraged if anyone dares contemplate selling a public forest.
In 2018 during a wide ranging interview, I asked the then Secretary of State about leadership in tree planting from the government, Mr Gove’s reply was luke-warm. It mirrors this BBC ‘reality’ check. Some campaigning NGOs may not enjoy my five Times letters on ash dieback, though they might enjoy my Nature Notebook praising tree handouts.
I now realise how selective we are over trees having interviewed the then Shadow Rural Affairs Minister, and once Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, back in 2010. Mary Creagh gave me her own copy of a government report ‘Combating Climate Change – a role for forests’ (the Read Report). Was it too far ahead of it’s time?
Or perhaps slightly inconvenient in not fitting an immerging narrative of ‘native species only’. Gets little mention in the current Agriculture Act.
Climate is one of the biggest ‘influencers’ around trees.
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 and carbon conservation conundrums. Welfare issues around enforced red deer and mountain hare culls. Ground-nesting hen harriers and curlews threatened by habitat loss to afforestation as well as crows and foxes predators from thick plantations.
Red squirrels, goldcrests, fungi love conifers of any ilk. Merlin and black grouse have adapted to live on the fringes of them. While pioneer conifer trees are a useful tool against invasive bracken in the uplands.
Fresh ways to a-forest
A more nuanced form of forest management than ‘plant, thin, clear-fell, repeat’. In his own transition in forestry practice, he had been able to critically review the continuum of landscapes ebbing and flowing in response to policy, climate, markets, and public opinion.