Our woodlands need a new perspective
Lowland woodlands are important to the public, not only for their recreation but for the environment and biodiversity so particularly now as there is a forestry consultation that closes on 17th September, I think the public would welcome the Wildlife Trust input in highlighting the issues.
Everyone cares about the planet and many, inspired by David Attenborough, like the Chancellor Rishi Sunak who said in his very first Budget he wanted to see 30,000 hectares of trees planted to capture climate heating carbon and boost wildlife However, in global terms, this is only a well meaning but misplaced gesture because it the lost of tropical forests, those of the great taiga near the top of the Northern hemisphere and the illegal logging in parts of Europe like Romania, where 2 hectare of forest is disappearing every hour, that is a major cause of climate change.
Public money for forests could can do a lot of good locally in the country, if it is targeted to local woodlands all over Lowland Britain firstly to meet the minimum criteria of reduction of deer numbers by at least half. The effect of deer on the ecology of woodlands is extensive. Understories are decimated and the ground flora, often denuded, which has huge effect on the habitat and so the numbers of animals, birds and insects too. This has been recorded in numerous scientific studies but is easily demonstrated visually wherever deer have been fence off. For a thriving variety of flora and fauna, the size of most lowland woodlands should be increased to at least 3 hectares (7:4 acres) . Fortunately this is also the minimum size to apply proper woodland management to produce timber too when deer and grey squirrel numbers are reduced.
Unfortunately bureaucracy favours simple felling and restocking for grants whilst ignoring professional foresters skills to progressively optimize timber production of woodlands over a number of years towards a system called ‘Continuous Cover Forestry’ (CCF) which has tremendous benefits for wildlife and ultimately, produces greater timber increment with larger trees and overall, for less cost in the longer term. CCF does not mimic natural woodlands exactly but aims to make the best use natural processes so can (and in my opinion, should) include suitable exotic conifers to yield productive, delightful mixed woodlands to enjoy as they have for nearly a century in Switzerland. CCF is no fad. It is increasingly used in Northern Europe, particularly in response to climate change problems and The Forestry Commission has already done its own experiments to confirm these results.
The control of deer and squirrel is vital for success any forestry enterprise hence the system of financial support needs thorough re-examination to get the best outcome. At present, a lot of up front cost is met by grants, yet often, as trees are a long term undertaking beyond one owner’s lifetime, the management falters so any expected quality timber is not produced. This wastes precious public money whilst providing inheritance tax avoidance assistance for a succession of owners. The best structure would be some sort of local group woodland ownership co-operatives or investment trusts, dedicated to ensuring continuous woodland cover management providing a continuous supply of timber and income to meet the costs and a small profit.
With 40% of English woodlands unmanaged it is likely this present forestry consultation is likely only to have input from the usual people for similar continuing results unless there is wider input which Wildlife Trusts might inspire from the ordinary public and other groups concerned with their local environments in which woods are important.
Personally I have recently been alerted to the increasing planting of Eucalyptus for firewood – which would do little to reduce Britain’s demand for timber! As the Woodland Trust has already pointed out such, Eucalyptus plantations damages both the environment and the habitat for thousand of species yet these monoculture plantations are supported by the current grants and Tax Avoidance schemes. New ways, as outlined above, are needed to optimize the benefits of our woodlands, in our crowded island, especially in England.
Merelene Davis FLS
See also a local initiative about tree growing: https://wendovernews.co.uk/news/climate-action-wendover-july-2020/