Roderick Leslie went into the Forestry Commission straight from Oxford University in the 1970s and occupied a variety of senior roles in forest policy and practice including a spell as Chief Executive of Forest Enterprise England. Roderick lived and worked through the challenges to the FC itself and to British forestry through this time; attempts at privatisation, the debate over upland afforestation, varying timber prices, new diseases, swings in government policy and the increasing importance of biomass in environmental and income terms.
Roderick is a friend of mine. We wrote a book together on forestry and birds back in the 1980s where Roderick knew a lot about forestry and birds, and I knew a bit about birds. That book stirred things up in both of our organisations at the time but now Roderick has no organisation to which he must answer and is free to say what he likes. This book is opinionated – these are opinions that are well worth reading as they are based on a lifetime of involvement with, and service to, British forestry.
Forestry, much more than farming and even more than fisheries, works over very long timescales. The forests planted today may not be harvested for 40 or more years, if they are harvested at all – a lot can change in 40 years. Today’s commercial forests are the product of political decisions, economics and public perceptions that stretch back for many decades. If we like our current forests then that is partly luck and partly the skill of previous generations of foresters. There aren’t many economic enterprises like that.
You have to know something about the past to understand the present and this book helps us all to do that with forestry. The book contains an inside account about how the FC got to be as it is and what was going on inside government and inside the FC. It makes very interesting reading.
But it is the future of forestry that is the real subject of this book and that is a live political, social and environmental issue right now. Roderick makes the case that forestry, as practised by the FC over the years (most particularly in recent years), is as fine an example of multi-objective land management as you will find in this country. Our forests, the ones we own and manage through the Forestry Commission, give us timber, recreation, wildlife, carbon storage and much more. Which other industry or land use is so receptive to the whole agenda?
I buy this analysis. Roderick and I aren’t very far apart in our views, and on reading this book, as in talking to him when we meet, I move even closer to his view because he charms me and because he is a persuasive advocate (he’s had lots of practice over the years). I would tend to point to the times and places and subjects where foresters, public and private, have acted as though timber economics were far and away the most important aspects of their management and where the multi-purpose approach emerged less clearly in practice, but that is a matter of emphasis rather than of real difference.
Roderick’s approach to the FC is rather similar to mine to the RSPB, I think. Both of us worked for ‘our’ organisations for most of our working lives, both are proud of what we achieved within the organisations and (fiercely?) protective of them in public (and were paid to be so for many years – it’s a habit difficult to drop) but both regret some things that were done in the past (and probably the present) and privately will be more open about the things we would like to see improve. But Roderick’s enthusiasm and love for forestry, foresters and the Forestry Commission shine through this book in a way that is wholly admirable in my view.
This book is written by someone who knows his subject and is thoroughly engaged with it. Some might find it odd that people can be so passionate about trees, and others will find it odd that there aren’t more people who share that passion. Whichever you are, you should read this book. If you do, I think you will learn from it and enjoy it.
Forest Vision: transforming the Forestry Commission by Roderick Leslie is published by New Environment Books and is available from the author for £12.99 (+£2.50P&P in the UK) from 8 Somerset Street, Bristol BS2 8NB. Other enquiries to the author at email@example.com. It consists of 218 pages and is very attractively produced as a hardback.
- Forests in Crisis
- Towards the ‘Flow Country’
- The New Foresty
- Privatisation I: 1993-4
- Land and Timber
- The New Forest
- Organisation and Management
- The Cutting edge
- Privatisation 2: 2010-11
- Future forests