Spring often feels like the right time for new challenges and a fresh look at the world – and now it’s beginning to feel a bit like spring, for once, I feel that I am comfortably in-step with a sense of seasonal shift – something that the modern world tries hard to suppress or ignore!
Here I am, recently arrived at the Woodland Trust as the new Head of Conservation. Making my return to the environmental sector and not only new to the Trust, but also new to the ‘third sector’ – a rather misleading label I think, that tends to downplay or understate the importance and impact of a group of bodies that collectively deliver a major chunk of everything that our society seeks to achieve!
It’s an exciting time to be plunging back into the world of trees, woods and forests, particularly as a strong suite of concepts and principles that I recall were emerging and gathering momentum in the environmental sector just a few years ago are now more firmly in the mainstream – a situation that is clearly reflected in Government policy and also in the objectives and delivery programmes of a wide range of environmental organisations (ourselves included).
In practice, this means a growing number of bodies looking at conservation at the landscape scale, addressing issues around the fragmentation of habitats and the potential isolation and loss of wildlife, recognising the importance of the so called ‘ecosystem services’ that trees, woods and the natural environment deliver – benefits like locking up carbon, protecting water resources, reducing flooding risks, providing space for recreation, making our cities more pleasant through greening, shade, better surface drainage and improvements to air quality: and all of this in the context of a growing awareness of climate change impacts.
Of course, there is always a risk of cynicism emerging, and even genuinely new approaches run the risk of being de-railed by the undeserved label of ‘latest fashion’ or dismissed as ‘new language’ invented and rolled out to re-describe the same long-standing issues, but without real hope of progress or solutions…
By all means, feel free to consider me a natural ‘optimist’, but I am feeling pretty positive about where we are, and the broad nature of the environmental issues and ideas that are out on the table for debate. I am all for healthy scepticism, but there comes a time when the weight of a well reasoned, well presented and persuasive argument will carry the day. I am ready to pitch in and do my bit, but my first step is to make sure I am getting in on the right conversations. So, all suggestions, signposts and dire warnings will be gratefully received!
Austin Brady, Head of Conservation