We’ve heard of some major new tree planting projects which are on the starting blocks, and murmurings of a massive national tree planting initiative, as measures to mitigate climate change. As a ‘tree man’ I would love to jump up and down and cheer loudly!
Sadly, I cannot bring myself to do so, because I fear that yet again the emphasis will be, very simplistically, on just the number of trees planted! Once again, we will not be investing in the vital management and aftercare of the saplings to ensure that they grow into high quality timber trees with tall clean stems. Alas, I fear we will be growing only “gooseberry bushes” and firewood, for future generations to inherit.
Nature needs nurture
Are we going to choose the right trees, plant them in the right places and for the right reasons? Are we going to invest in the best seed origin? In formative and high pruning? Plant at the right spacing, thin when appropriate, protect from predation by rabbits, deer and grey squirrels? Are we as a nation going to investigate and find a solution to the disease/s threatening our iconic Oak trees?
We know how to grow trees properly, but why do we so seldom do so? Why do we continue to import most of our Oak from France, when we are perfectly capable of growing high quality Oak in this country? Why are timber and timber products still one of the largest items on our import bill? I ask this because we can achieve at least three times the growth rate of Sweden for conifers and could therefore meet far more of our softwood requirements.
This country has long suffered from ‘short termism’. It is a huge problem in relation to woodland management and forestry where we need continuity of management. Yes, it takes at least 120 years to grow an Oak tree. You can’t think about quick returns and you need the right tax and fiscal regime to reward long-term investment and stewardship.
When browsing the web, I came across an old Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees, whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
If you find this opening article downbeat and even slightly depressing, then please don’t. I’ve just re-read our Woodland Heritage Journals for the last fifteen years. My objective was to look for the names of individuals whom we have helped educationally, to undertake research, to travel the world to study best practice, or to develop practical woodland and woodcraft skills. I intend to invite them to write something about ‘How Woodland Heritage Has Helped…’ on our new website www.woodlandheritage.org.uk
My point? After some hours, I was amazed to have written down five pages of names. I found letters from so many young people (and some not so young) saying, “You’ve changed my life”.
The really gratifying thing is that so many of those individuals have gone on to transfer their knowledge and skills to others (see page 24). Keep the faith – slowly but surely, we’ll win in the end!