Can’t See the British Woods Without the Trees

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Can’t See the British Woods Without the Trees

By Hwaa Irfan

With the reality of the impact of the global economic crisis hit home in some parts of the world more than others, in recent months, there has been a strange declaration to sell off the nation’s forest with the general public assumption that the aim is to reduce the nation’s deficit or simply short-term gain. When the so-called leak was made to sell the forests of Britain, the public outcry at the very the very thought was more than apparent. Along with the dwindling country villages, it seems that there is not much sentimentality for a fading English identity once referred to as the “green and pleasant land.” Throwing sentiment out of the window, the forests of Britain are much more than that.

Can 748 hectares of British woodland, is administered by the Forestry Commission be replaced by holiday villages golf courses, logging companies, and adventure sites to commercial entities that would have profit not nature in mind? That seems to be the general proposal by U.K. Ministers who are either panic stricken with the U.K. debt, or opportunists seeking to line their pockets. Losing seven community forests in the U.K. seem to be of little concern. Situated around the largest British towns and cities, these forest provide a break from the city madness, for those who cannot afford to travel far away from home, and an opportunity for the young to know what nature is all about. This may not be an issue for ministers who can afford to (at least at the moment) to travel out of the country to facilitate relaxation, but as ministers this should be a consideration of the people they have been voted in to represent. The purpose of these community forests is to enhance the cities they are annexed to, and to play a role in “economic and social regeneration,” by giving life to derelict land, as well as the issue of climate change in order to support the idea of healthy living. These community forests established in 1990 arose from a government plan, and a worthy one at that, to only be put asunder 20 years later by ministers who seem to lack that wisdom? Covering over 48,000 hectares of woodland, 16,000 hectares is allocated for leisure activities, routes for cyclists, and have played a role in increasing environmental awareness within the related communities.

The community forests were in addition to those put under the protection of the Charter of Forests of 1217.

“Henry, by the grace of God, king of England, lord of Ireland, duke of Normandy, Aquitaine, and count of Anjou, to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, justices, foresters, sheriffs, stewards, servants, and to all his bailiffs and faithful subjects, greeting. Know that out of reverence for God and for the salvation of our soul and the souls of our ancestors and successors, for the exaltation of holy church and the reform of our realm, we have granted and by this present charter confirmed for us and our heirs for ever, on the advice of our venerable father, the lord Gualo, cardinal priest of St Martin and legate of the apostolic see, of the lord Walter archbishop of York, William bishop of London and the other bishops of England and of William Marshal earl of Pembroke, ruler of us and of our kingdom, and our other faithful earls and barons of England, these liberties written below to be held in our kingdom of England for ever.

“[1] In the first place, all the forests which king Henry our grandfather made forest shall be viewed by good and law-worthy men, and if he made forest any wood that was not his demesne to the injury of him whose wood it was, it shall be disaforrested. And if he made his own wood forest, it shall remain forest, saving common of pasture and other things in that forest to those who were accustomed to have them previously.”

“Men who live outside the forest need not henceforth come before our justice of the forest upon a general summons, unless they are impleaded or are sureties for any person or persons who are attached for forest offences…”

This might removing the legal obligation towards ancient forests to make way for logging, but once all trees are removed what will be the benefit then? A denatured environment leads to denatured people, decreasing the level of well-being. Until the White Paper is released no is the wiser as to actual government intent, but predicting the worst case scenario, the battle must be fought from now. An unnamed source said:

“We are looking to energize our forests by bringing in fresh ideas and investment, and by putting conservation in the hands of local communities.”

 How true this is might be self defeating, considering that private enterprise and community responsibility very rarely today make a cohesive partnership that is supported by the law whether it is 50% of the land to be sold or more, to allow even for 10% is to allow for further incursions into forested land.

Talks, talks, and more talks, just seem to be discussions that blow away in the wind. The world’s first global agreement on forests was made at the Earth Summit in Rio, yet pledging to make more a more sustainable use of forests! That seems like a term in contradiction, and can be taken out of context if the meaning is in contrast to reducing unsustainable use of forests. With the intent of U.K. ministers, unsustainable use is more appropriate. Working towards the intentions of the World Summit of Sustainable Development, WSSD, the U.K. forestry had the following initiatives:

1)      To combat illegal logging – but once it has been made legal, and there is no wood left to log, this will no longer be a problem!

2)      The perception of the forest containing products to “cover the whole wood chain, from growing through to timber processing, including renewable energy

Unless they are referring to another country the above initiatives apply not just England, but Wales and N. Ireland, and are stated in the 2002 report, “UK Forest Partnership for Action.” In other words, the plan has been in the pipelines for a while, and is not a reaction to the current global economic crisis. This initiative is also repeated in “U.K. Forests and Trees,” a 2007 publication of the Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology as follows: 

“Sustainable forest management’ aims to provide social and environmental goods, to maintain an economically viable forestry sector and to protect these benefits for future generations…”

The same publication specified:

“Forests and trees can provide economic, social and environmental benefits. Often these are complementary, but trade-offs can be required between economic timber production and aims such as public access or increased biodiversity”.

“…to promote high environmental and social standards in commercial forestry…”

The forestry and wood processing sectors make a significant contribution to the UK economy, producing £7.2 billion in gross value added.”

Large amounts of the forests under the Ministerial proposal will be sold to the Department for the Environment Food, and Rural Affairs, Defra. This would facilitate the above. The U.K Forestry does already produce timber, which is only 18% of the timber that the nation uses, and some of the wood imported to the U.K. is illegally logged from parts of Africa for example. If this is solely an attempt to reduce the U.K. role in the illegal logging market, then these steps is acting with a conscious, but one doubts that very much. Yes, tress can be replanted, but how long does it take for a Yew or an elder tree to grow? They are suggesting that the initiative would help to promote farm diversification, but surely what farms need to do is to reclaim their role in the nation’s supply of food from multinational biotechnological companies.

The same Parliamentary publication acknowledged the following:

Social benefits 

  • 167,000 jobs, many of them in rural areas
  • Public access and opportunities for recreation and tourism, including sports such as mountain biking
  • Opportunities for exercise, contributing to improved health
  • Allowing people to experience nature, view wildlife and ‘get away’ from urban life, contributing to mental well-being
  • Preserving cultural heritage, including ancient ‘veteran’ trees and archaeological sites;
  • Opportunities for outdoor education through initiatives such as Forest Schools;
  • Bring disadvantaged people back into the community).
  • Community forestry

Woodland and trees also perform a variety of valuable natural functions (‘ecosystem services’):

  •  Protect soils from erosionreducing flooding in some catchments by intercepting rainwater and reducing run-off in storm events
  •  Helping to reclaim contaminated land
  • Provide shelter, shade and cooling in urban areas and wind breaks on farmland
  • Conserve biodiversity. Broadleaved woodland contains more than twice as many rare species, listed.

Given the landmass of the U.K. and the spread of towns, and cities, selling 50% (150,000 hectares) for commercial use, will undermine most if not all of the above at a time, when further risks in environmental restructuring in a manner that is not in nature’s favor might be asking for more than can be bargained for, because once the soil is eroded, the current drastic changes in winter weather that the U.K. is facing will get worse. And given the affect of the global economic crisis on the general well-being of the population, any spread in dissatisfaction will increase any dissatisfaction with the government in a society that wants an immediate turn for the better. What the government needs to be honest about though is the steps towards producing biomass for biofuel as the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology see the forests as:

“… contributing to limiting climate change by taking up, and retaining atmospheric carbon (sequestration),  and reducing CO2 emissions by the use of wood as a source of bio-energy”.

The worsening floods, gales, and snow storms may just be the result of deforesting what was once a land full of forests!


“Charter of the Forest of King Henry III.”

“Community Forests.”

Hennessy, P. “Ministers Plan Huge Sell-Off of Britain’s Forests.”

Related Topics:

Will the Climate Talks Be Hot Enough

Behind the Food Price Crisis!

Finding a Global Balance