Forest Panel’s report published

The final report of the Independent Panel on Forestry has been published.

The initial Defra response to the report was fairly warm, and fairly non-committal.

Everyone else seems to like it: RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, National Trust, Butterfly Conservation, Save Our Woods, CLA, Royal Forestry Society.

Media coverage includes: BBC, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph.

Read the report for yourself, as will I, a few times, but here are the elements which are highlighted in the Executive Summary:

In our report we urge society as a whole to value woodlands for the full range of benefits they bring. We call on Government to pioneer a new approach to valuing and rewarding the management, improvement and expansion of the woodland ecosystems for all the benefits they provide to people, nature and the green economy.

In our report, we recommend Forest Services should evolve to become a public body with duties, powers and functions to champion, protect and increase benefits from trees, woodlands and forests that are good for people, good for nature and good for the green economy.

In our report, we propose that the public forest estate should remain in public ownership, and be defined in statute as land held in trust for the nation. A Charter should be created for the English public forest estate, to be renewed every ten years. The Charter should specify the public benefit mission and statutory duties, and should be delivered
through a group of Guardians, or Trustees, who will be accountable to Parliament. The Guardians will oversee the new public forest management organisation evolved from Forest Enterprise England.

In our report, we urge Government to ensure that the new organisational landscape makes specific provision for international and cross-border arrangements, working closely with the devolved Parliaments on sustainable multi-benefit forestry implementation, research and in the international arena.

More on this tomorrow from me – what do you think?





15 Replies to “Forest Panel’s report published”

  1. From what I understand overall woodland cover has been going up but many woodland birds are in decline. If that’s true what do you think the reasons for it are?

  2. Mark, it may not have been on in your region but Mrs Spelman appeared on ITV west saying quite categorically that the nations forests were safe as public property. I thought she did it well – this hasn’t been a happy episode for her – and I’m backing her to make an FC-style comeback by taking this forward with sincerity and commitment.

    To use a surfing analogy, I tried to urge the NGOs to ride the wave of public opinion – the report, for example, is one of the highest profile public outings for ecosystem services which lie at the heart of nature conservation – but sadly they got wiped out. They are now climbing back – led by Martin Harper of RSPB -read his blog this week – who is showing the sort of energy we expect of RSPB – I’m right behind him.

    My biggest worry, and sorry if this is a bit geeky but Mark at least will appreciate it, is that its all a bit process driven and combined with the bottomless pit of Defra inertia there’s a risk not a lot happens.

    So (and in response to your comments, mark, about Our Forests & nature) what I want to see is a commitment to reversing the decline in woodland biodiversity. Unlike farming I believe forestry can do it. New institutions need to be designed need to be designed around outcomes and this for me is a 9the ?) big one. So I’m not happy with a ‘Forest Services’ evolving out of a Forestry Authorityalready badly in need of refocussing – its risks becoming a pale shadow alongside a resurgent, re-energised Forestry Commission estate, with the risk the public forests stand out ever more starkly in comparison with the rest.

    And that is the answer to your question, Giles: nearly half England’s forests are currently unmanaged. Following wartime fellings they’ve grown up into tightly packed, dark middle aged woods – the worst stage in the forest cycle for wildlife. We need urgent action at both ends of the cycle – conserving and gently regenerating our oldest trees, especially pasture woodlands (that is now going well) and much, much more management to produce the early growth essential for iconic species like Nightingale which are in disastrous decline. My ambition is to do for Nightingale what conifer forests did for Nightjar – which recovered from a long slide towards extinction by breeding on new conifer clearfells.

    1. I would say that that is certainly part of the answer Roderick. That and the exploding deer population which is destroying a lot of undergrowth.

      So is the best way to improve our woodlands to cut down more trees and shoot more wildlife? Are the chainsaw, billet hook and gun truly nature’s friends not her enemies?

      If so the question becomes – how do we encourage those activities. One route is through public ownership but surely another is through private involvement. Woodlands become unmanaged when people stop using them, and it’s not just large forested areas that are important there are countless little pockets of woodland all over our countryside connected by hedgerows, in themselves vital wildlife coridoors.

      What we need to try and do is ally economic and leisure interests with those of nature. There can be aspects of farming, industry, tourism country sports &c which are deeply beneficial to nature. For example when we had a wood fueled iron industry we had huge areas of very intensively managed coppice woodland much of which either went into decline or disappeared when iron smelting switched to coal.

      1. Giles, You say “Are the chainsaw, billet hook and gun truly nature’s friends not her enemies?”. As a laymen in this area I think I would say they were never her enemies ‘if used properly’.

        I once went on an Earthwatch project to Costa Rica. We were in rainforest with snakes and jaguars and would ask the local rangers which were the most dangerous animals. The answer was always “Senor, the most dangerous animal is a gringo with a machete”.

        It isn’t about the tools it is about how they are used and who by.

  3. Generally found the report ok , need to make another pass through it for a more considered view. I work as a volunteer for NT in particular for NT Rangers in woodland management. From my limited view on the NT owned woodland I do have real concerns about the resources put into woodland management and some of the problems at the coal face the scarce but skilled/highly motivated Rangers face, pretty much on their own initiatives. Another of my concerns is the underestimation of grey squirrel damage to both mature & young broadleafs something the woodland management techniques are not coping with.

    In short this report is welcome especially if its recommendations are taken forward but I remain a little sceptical about whether at grass roots level we’ll see real benefit for some time. For example the Fiona Reynolds of the world make bold statements about protecting our countryside but don’t see the priorities on funding to back this up.

    1. “underestimation of grey squirrel damage”

      John Workman must be spinning in his grave.

    2. Alan,

      As you know, grey squirrels can be a real menace to people trying to make a living from woodlands. For many of our coppice workers, grey squirrel damage can cost them a significant percentage of their income. The only answer is control.

      Taking a holistic view, grey squirrel meat can become a valuable addition to a woodsman’s diet. This can reduce money spent on food shopping, and helps make sustainable woodland management a slightly more financially viable option.

      The question is, do you see it as a pest, a resource, or both?

  4. I had a fairly good read through of the Report yesterday. I will be interested to see what regular readers / contributors to this blog make of it. As I read on through the Report, I became ever more convinced that we are just seeing a re-run of the last time that the FC was threatened with a sell-off. In 1993 the FC estate was not sold off as the then Government had planned. The sternest critics of the department (as it then was) rose up and defended it. After that we saw the FC undergo a re-vamp and a name change. Since then the FC has suffered from one identity crisis after another as it struggles to follow the twists and turns of fashions and priorities in government policy. This report is little more than a rather bigger step than usual to one side as the FC yet again manages to dodge departmental oblivion. Rod, we have all wanted to see “a commitment to reversing the decline in woodland biodiversity” for years, but do you really think that either of the new bodies will be capable of delivering it?

  5. In reference to the quote “a commitment to reversing the decline in woodland biodiversity” I have what is more of a long winded question rather than a table tapping point to make, because looking into the UK situation from afar there seems to be much specialist knowledge but confined within an organisation dedicated to that specialism. Many in France consider English nature conservation to be the management of biodiversity islands and whilst green corridors and fragmented landscapes are recognised, the money and inclination isn’t available to join up the dots (or possibly unable to because of NFU lobbying?). This results in such comments with regards tackling a decline in a specific habitat or landscapes’ biodiversity – when of course any specific locations biodiversity is affected by what surrounds it. The major pan European push for green tramway’s (asides from UK) has the majority of available funding also. In France many smaller regional associations have been formed to tackle this problem and to gain grant funding the question is not ‘who are you going to talk to with that knowledge?’ to gain a comprehensive range of knowledge from across all who work with nature or land – but ‘who are you going to employ with that knowledge?’ (Proper public engagement is assured). Asides from the silenced NE & to a lesser extent the FC I see no other organisations in the UK, particularly non governmental who take this same principle – or am I wrong?

    The Forests Report as with many other reports is still a rather insular set of recommendations when talking about biodiversity (and social elements) and lacks an over riding statement to encompass ALL biodiversity in the UK (lazily referring to the UKNEA instead – which pigeon holes habitats also). The result is a fragmentation of voices as well as a fragmented landscape, which is fantastically easy to divide up by a government who may be tempted to follow a silly think tank born idea such as biodiversity offsetting or similar nonsense.

    1. Pip – that’s a very interesting point. And I think it’s true. If I were answering on behalf of Defra (which I certainly am not) then they would say that the new nature improvement Area scheme is an answer to your point – but it has very little fnding and is so new that none of us knows whether it will produce anything.

      I’ve always been struck by the fact that overall in France the intensity of agriculture is similar, on average, to that in the UK (there are data to back that up) but the declines in biodiversity on farmland seem much less (there are data to back that up too). is this because the landscape matrix is kinder?

    2. RE “biodiversity offsetting” I remember a long time ago hearing a minister saying it was that some scheme or other was going to destroy an SSSI because they were going to create another one to take its place. You couldn’t make it up really!

  6. The landscape approach is embedded here. The central focus for Cemagraf (French government research body for the environment) and therefore all regional and other national organisations is ‘landscape’ with the European Landscape Convention (the UK seem to dislike the ELC – why? just because it has Europe in the title?) as the base platform. All PDD2 research won its funding after having to demonstrate not just understanding of this but also how their work fits this umbrella criteria.

    There is a situation at play which makes this approach easy to follow; France has much more land to play with of course (a MAMBA landscape – Miles And Miles of Bugger All – except wildlife of course) together with what some UK land managers and even conservationists would describe as lazy management, but is in fact a thriftiness on behalf of landowners who own considerable tracts of land, often separated from each other (even buying a rural house – you often end up with a pocket of woodland 2km to the west, a field 1km to the east, a garden the other side of the road etc.,) therefore if there is no financial incentive to manage that land – why bother, let the migrating animals do it for you, animals the UK system keeps confined.

    I noticed a large part North Devon secured NIA status, overlapping ‘Biosphere’ status, but are also a pilot area for Biodiversity Offsetting. A strange and contradictory mix which in turn cancels out a true landscape approach, surely?

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