Guest post: Keith Jones, Forestry Commission

Our next guest in the ‘Forests Report: conversations’ series is Keith Jones:

“Following Dominic Driver’s blog on woodland policy issues and our 1,000 year view, I thought you might like to see the same take on similar issues but from a field level perspective.

The last 12 months have been frenetic, and the next few years look like being the same… with ongoing financial austerity, the bedding down of the reorganised Forestry Commission in England, implementing the Regulation Task Force recommendations and preparing for the Government’s response to the Independent Panel.

The challenges and opportunities for my team of 26 dedicated staff and our partners are significant. We must secure economic, social and environmental benefits from the existing woodlands in the North West and West Midlands Area (10,500 square miles and over 12 million people), but also develop a new and integrated incentives package to replace the current English Woodland Grant Scheme.

The biggest priority is to protect and enhance the resilience of the area’s existing 200,000 hectares of privately owned woodlands (the 34,000ha of Public Forest Estate are the responsibility of colleagues in Forest Enterprise), and to bring more of them into sustainable management.

Creating new woodlands is also vital, as the Independent Panel on Forestry has highlighted. This includes new woodlands in urban areas. For the last 10 years the FC has worked with the Red Rose and Mersey Community Forests and others to create new woodlands in the most deprived areas of Greater Manchester and Merseyside. It’s great that the Woodland Trust are doing so much on woodland creation and we have a meeting coming up with them to share our brownfield land evidence.

Protection of woodlands remains challenging. While facing familiar challenges like deer and grey squirrels we are also responding to a wave of new pathogens like Phytophthora ramorum on larch, Phytophthora austrocedrae in Juniper and now Chalara dieback of ash. We also need to broaden our tree species selection to help adapt our woodlands to the impacts of climate change.

On a broader front, we are taking a fresh look at the potential for underpinning woodland management in the long term via direct and indirect income steams.

We need to develop new economies if we are going to continue to get multiple benefits from our woodlands. Timber prices are as high as they have ever been and woodfuel is underpinning the bottom of the market. This is resulting in more woods being managed in ways that enhance wildlife and local landscapes, not to mention creating jobs and wealth for the country.  However, many woodlands remain undermanaged – even neglected.

With partners such as Heartwoods in the West Midlands and Cumbria Woodlands we are stepping up efforts to provide first class advice on timber including woodfuel production. We have combined this with mapping to allow us to target those areas with the greatest levels of economic and social need such as the Marches. The Marches Local Enterprise Partnership support this, as do Confor, who believe that as many as 7,000 jobs could be created in areas of rural deprivation in England.

As our new Secretary of State Owen Paterson said in his party conference speech, we need to invest in our environment and invest in our economy if we are to unlock rural Britain’s potential.

So life will remain frenetic, but never dull and always exciting.”

About Keith

Image: Forestry Commission with kind permission

Keith Jones – Area Director (North West and West Midlands), Forestry Commission England

Keith has been a forester for more than 37 years and is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Foresters. Keith was awarded an OBE in the 2009 Queens Birthday Honours for services to forestry, the environment and regeneration.

Keith’s proudest achievements including devising and helping to deliver both the £59 million Newlands land regeneration scheme and Cumbria’s Forest Futures rural development programme, which helped to revive the area’s economy after the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease. His current commitments include working with Alder Hey Liverpool Children’s Hospital on their redevelopment scheme and creation of a Children’s Health Park, and as Chair of the technical advisory group for the Lake District world heritage cultural landscape bid.

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About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
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