Recognition of the value of woodland for nature is a key component in the Independent Forestry Panel report which states:
“Our vision is for a landscape where our inheritance of woodland and trees is well protected, where there are opportunities for nature to thrive everywhere, and where the wildlife value of woodland and associated habitats is increasing.”
There is a nice synergy here with recently published Government documents such as the Natural Environment White Paper and Biodiversity 2020 which seek to set policy to protect and enhance our natural environment. In Biodiversity 2020 the key Forestry action is to:
“Bring a greater proportion of our existing woodlands into sustainable management and expand the area of woodland in England.”
The Panel was asked by Government to address levels of ambition for management and woodland creation including how woodland biodiversity should be conserved and increased. Unfortunately there is no easy solution: more management (however defined) does not automatically mean greater biodiversity; and what does enhancing biodiversity mean, anyway? Are we going for numbers of species or abundance, for instance?
Understandably, both the Government and the ‘end-users’, the woodland owners and managers, aspire to either a ‘one-stop-shop’ or a simplified ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, but all woods are unique and with that level of variability it is very difficult to come up with a one size fits all prescription on management for conservation. For instance, how you manage your wood is based on so many different variables: what the wood is like now – geography, geology, history; what you want from the wood – access, biodiversity, timber, wood fuel; and availability of resources – knowledge, labour, markets. Unless you are a trained woodland ecologist or forester the whole process can be both quite daunting and quite extensive.
So what should be done to support woodland owners? The Panel has recommended that
“Government, working in partnership with the forestry and land management sectors, should proactively offer every woodland owner advice on multi-benefit woodland management.”
Laudable intentions, certainly, but what is the best way of achieving this aim? Whilst the Government has a role to provide support and guidance this does not mean that they have to provide the whole package. Perhaps the role for the Government should be to provide a sign-posting service which could direct owners to more specialised support (whether statutory, voluntary or commercial), provide a knowledge hub for information and experiences and direct advisors to woodland owners.
Over the years much work has been undertaken to look at best practice both in terms of conservation management and the advice which is delivered, not just in woodland but across all habitats. There are some examples of success but the overarching problems of loss of priority habitats and species remain because something isn’t working.
The Panel report and the current discussions on the future shape of the England Rural Development Plan for 2014 and beyond give us a real opportunity to look again at how we should best meet the needs of all woodland owners in helping ‘bring a greater proportion of our existing woodlands into sustainable management and expand the area of woodland in England’.
Something isn’t working; what would you suggest?
Frances Winder, Conservation Policy Officer