The England Forestry Strategy (EFS) was launched by the Government at the end of 1998. In a sense it brings together many of the changes that have been taking place over the last thirty years and now formally recognises the wider benefits that forestry can bring to society. Indeed this is the emphasis of the Strategy – what can forestry do for society and for our environment.
Since its formation in 1919 the Forestry Commission had been charged with developing a ‘strategic reserve of timber’ in case of future wars or blockades. This policy was successfully pursued right up to the sixties as foresters planted up fast growing timber species on any soil they could get their hands on – which, of course, tended not to be the soils needed for agriculture. Private estates were encouraged by means of grants to replant their woods with similar species and traditional woodland practices such as coppicing were seen as largely irrelevant.
Gradually concerns about landscape and wildlife became more evident soon to be followed by the issues surrounding access and public enjoyment of forests. The concept of ‘ancient woodland’ only became current in the early eighties but by 1985 a new emphasis on the protection and promotion of broadleaved trees was put in place by Government. Since then the Forestry Commission and many other organisations have begun to recognise the value of activities once regarded as ‘obsolete’. The coppicing of hazel certainly falls into this category and we are now even able to support the industry with specific grants to landowners and involvement with the Wessex Coppice Group and a number of other initiatives throughout England.
- The England Forestry Strategy is grouped around the four themes of
- Forestry for rural development
- Forestry for economic regeneration
- Forestry for recreation, access and tourism
- Forestry for the environment and conservation.
Within each of these there are a number of developing programmes. For example we will be seeking to reverse the fragmentation of our ancient semi natural woodlands – not an easy task and one where a lot of scientific understanding simply does not exist. I recently asked a mammal expert how much woodland might be needed to support a healthy population of dormice. He thought perhaps 20 hectares to allow for varying food abundance, cold winters and genetic diversity. So perhaps joining up two one hectare woods would be a waste of effort –assuming of course dormice were the local object of interest. Very quickly one can see that foresters are now having to ask very different questions than they did a few years ago!
As a result of the new strategy we can expect to see major change in the type of grants we give to owners and much more emphasis on discretionary payments. Unless the wider benefits of any new planting or management scheme are clearly evident, then future funding will be become more difficult to secure. It may be that we can move much more towards the direct support of those producing and marketing products such as charcoal and fencing. Already in our relatively small scale support for the Wessex Coppice Groupwe have seen the effectiveness of training support for woodland workers and learnt of the importance of effective and targeted marketing – something I certainly didn’t learn much about during my forestry days at University.