The Future of the Forestry Commission… are the postage stamp designers on standby?

Is it just the British who to love to mark centenaries and anniversaries? That thought was triggered in my head when I caught sight of the new postage stamps celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Football Association, complete with a grinning Kevin Keegan, carefully drawn by the artist in his soft-perm stage. Sadly, I must confess to recognising most of the players depicted on the full set – and they do go back in time a bit… Image:

It raised the prospect of whether or not the design brief for the Forestry Commission centenary postage stamps was already in somebody’s forward work plan? And begs the question as to what they might consider depicting on them that could really tell the story of the organisation’s achievements since it was set up in 1919. 

The Forestry Commission is almost unique in its longevity as an organisation, having seen so many others come and go. It can pride itself on having been able to combine a genuine understanding of the long term nature of the whole business of trees, woods and forests, with the flexibility and responsiveness to keep itself more or less relevant to the changing needs of society. 

Is it just me, or are forests and woods enjoying their highest ever public and political profile? The opportunities and benefits that our woods can deliver seem more relevant than ever, so we must not waste the knowledge and expertise that resides in all the constituent parts that make up the trees, woods and forests sector – there will be enough for us all to do. 

The Government response to the Independent Panel on Forestry has received a qualified welcome in most quarters, but may have become entangled with the coincidental timing of the Triennial Review of the Environment Agency and Natural England – could this provide a convenient ‘smoke screen’ for a bit of dismantling and merging? Could forestry bodies get caught up in the Government search for hapless victims – mere targets in their sights to increase the Quango body-count? 

Of course, nothing stays the same, everything must change (cue the soulful lyrics of Paul Young), but too much change, too quickly surely rings alarm bells? The Forestry Commission Director General has now retired (the last of the line), the Forestry Commission Chair left at the end of her contract in December, unusually after only one term. The Forestry Commission in England gets a new Director, but he is unlikely to get his feet under the desk until sometime in March (hopefully not the Ides of) when much of the Triennial Review wheeling and dealing may well be all over, bar the shouting. Colleagues in the Woodland Trust have already made our views known via the Review consultation that we want the Forest Services function to remain a clear and distinctive voice for trees, woods and forests and be kept well clear of any kind of merger or risk of being subsumed into some labyrinthine environmental mega-department. 

So, where are the senior and experienced voices speaking up for forests and woods inside government in these turbulent times? Not voices of self-interest or special pleading, but voices that carry the knowledge, experience and understanding built up from decades of serving the public. The old triumvirate that made up the Forestry Commission – previously labelled as Forest Enterprise, the Forestry Authority and Forest Research – delivered a valuable balance. It provided the kind of flexible organisation that could draw on the specialist knowledge of colleagues in other areas as and when required – and perhaps more importantly it provided the career pathways and experience that meant most staff, whether hands-on managers of the public estate, members of partnership and stakeholder teams, or working on grants, regulations and advice were equally valued by the public, and credible to landowners and policy makers. 

The Woodland Trust is one of many voices that will continue to speak up for trees, woods and forests from outside the ‘corridors of power’, working with others to push against the ‘open doors’ that the Government response to the Panel Report seems to represent – hopefully once inside we will find some genuine and effective stakeholder engagement. But, as the cheers subside from the celebrations that the public forest estate is ‘not for sale’, many other matters remain unresolved. A real Government commitment to follow through on all of these ‘once in a generation’ opportunities and open doors, means that now is not the time to dispose of the very people we will all need to work with, who have the knowledge and skills to guide, facilitate and deliver on those promises. 

Over the years, I’m not alone in having been streamlined, downsized, rationalised, had my efficiency increased, been empowered to work smarter not harder, exhorted to deliver more for less, to embrace leaner systems, and not forgetting being ‘invested in’, amongst other things. Some organisations can remain robust in the face of such a catalogue of ‘improvement’ and short term turbulence, especially if they have that distinctive combination of knowledge, experience, credibility and trust – that’s the kind of stuff that’s in the Forestry Commission’s organisational DNA. What a waste it would be to kill off that lineage now.

Austin Brady, Head of Conservation


*Keep the debate alive and catch up with more posts in our ‘Forests Report’ series:


About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
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18 Responses to The Future of the Forestry Commission… are the postage stamp designers on standby?

  1. Ash Wilting says:

    The FC has a wealth of skills from research to the skilled craftsman out in the wood.
    Sadly the latter is very nearly extinct…..the FC have taken on hardly any youngsters in the last 20 years…..the woodsmen are getting less & less through age retirement & now a large amount of them have gone due to the Government budget cuts…..what would the FC be without the skills & knowledge of these men at the pointy end?……..
    They would be an advisory & grant issuing organisation……..which is what the Government were going to make them if the sell off’s went ahead.
    So, who are going to manage our Forests…..I think it will be an amalgamation of private organisations like Euroforest, Fountain Forestry etc.
    Before we all celebrate a victory….we’d better check the back door……those clever, devious people at Whitehall are creeping through it !
    They were only ever concerned about the running costs of the forests, not the sales value….
    They are offering a budget of almost B**##er all to run our woodlands.
    By retaining the all important access for the public they have satisfied most. But now they have to offload the the upkeep expense.
    This will be to the detriment of the forests ……….the organisations like Euroforest, Fountain forestry etc, do a good job of managing the woodlands they have, whilst retaining public access car parks, tracks, etc. But, there’s little chance of them having the budget the FC have, to do the conservation work, provide visitor & education sites etc.

    Whose victory is it?

  2. Lawan Bukar says:

    The art and science of forestry and foresters are disappearing everywhere and the problems of forest administration is not just limited to the Forestry Commission in the UK. The Commonwealth Forestry Association and its likes everywhere must wake up and save the profession and its enlightened work.

  3. Clive Coles says:

    A great assessment Austin ~ makes me warm towards the Woodland Trust as previously I didn’t feel the preservation of the plantation forests of our country were high on the WT agenda. It’s good therefore to read such positive views in your opening statement .
    My local forest campaigners ~ Sandlings Forest in East Anglia, have welcomed the Government announcement that the policy of Public forest sell-off has been abandoned. We are now however very concerned with indications that are coming from Government sources that the Forestry Commission could be split and that Forest Services and Forest Research could end up being merged in with Natural England and/or The Environment Agency.
    There was no indication when the EA/NE Trienial review was launched that this exercise would determine the fate of the Forestry Commission as currently constituted. This news slipped out with the Government’s response to the Forestry panel report at the end of January ~ just 5 days before the the public consultation on the EA/NE Trienial review ended . This smells ~ we seem to be back where we were two years ago when the Government tried to slip in their sell-off plans to the Public Bodies Bill.
    All interested parties need to work together to resist the fragmentation of the Forestry Commission. No time for conplacency.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      I’m very glad to have been able to clear up another misunderstanding, Clive. And, yes the timing of this – like the proposed planning changes in 2011 – is a worry

  4. Liz says:

    Most people believe the forests are saved since the government have said they agree with much of the Forestry Panel recommendations. Those words of agreement however were all qualified to make them almost meaningless, there were no guarantees of anything. The government response didn’t list the things they didn’t agree with, just ignored them. The extra funding they mentioned wasn’t extra at all but comes from funding already allocated to forestry last year – do they think it can be spent twice?
    I think they are trying to sneak through a splitting up of the Forestry Commission just the same as they tried to sell off the forests two years ago – hoping no one will notice! People need to wake up to this and make their voices heard – this is not what everyone campaigned and protested for. Have we got to go through all the protesting again to make government listen?

  5. hen says:

    Maybe you could reconsider your portrayal of timber crop plantations in your blogs photo header?
    How would the Woodland Trust farm trees as a sustainable resource without requiring the trees to be planted close together for the first 10yrs or so of their cycle?
    Not good enough to say that you shouldn’t farm trees… I’d much rather everything I had was made of local, sustainably resourced wood than plastic!

    • Kay Haw says:

      Hello Hen, the header you refer to is of a plantation next to semi natural ancient woodland. It is there in reference to the ancient woodland restoration work that we are dedicated to. This particular image is taken at Clanger Wood. It is an interesting site where strips of native ancient woodland were removed in the 1970s to make way for non-native conifer plantations. So you get the effect seen in the image, of strips of ancient woodland situated right next to conifer plantation strips. The image illustrates the contrast between the lighter, more structurally diverse areas of broadleaf and the darker, more regimented lines of conifer.
      We are not opposed to growing and managing trees as a sustainable resource. But we are passionate about increasing our ancient woodland resource by restoring plantations on ancient woodland sites, and increasing our native tree cover. This has a huge range of benefits for biodiversity, and is important for supporting wildlife in this difficult time of habitat fragmentation, climate change, and the threat from invasive species and non-native pests and diseases.

      • hen says:

        Thanks Kay.

        Of course I understand your position on PAWS and heartily support it. However, the picture doesn’t explain all of that and instead feeds the notion that plantations are ‘bad’.

        A tree crop has to be planted in regimented rows and close together as it’s a long cycle, farmed crop. The plantations cycle before thinning requires it to be planted close together, which yes, has the impact of a closed canopy. However, it’s part of a longterm cycle, which ends up in a wider spaced forest.

        The argument then is, how do we manage these plantations more sustainably, with mindfulness of biodiversity and for resilience to the impacts of climate change and the global market?

        As you know, we need plantations and we need conservation forests (and personally I don’t see why both of those can’t be good for biodiversity and people). So, I’m just asking if you could balance out your PR on plantations a bit and perhaps be a bit more publicly constructive about the future of their management?

        In keeping with this blog post above, the Forestry Commission are at the forefront (and have been for over a decade) of some exciting, pioneering and frankly vital research into how plantations can be managed for resilience, which is focused on diversity and lower impact management techniques. It’s very exciting!

        • Kay Haw says:

          For the spring 2012 issue of the Woodland Trust’s Wood Wise – – I wrote a case study, with the site manager and Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, about the FC’s Wareham Forest (see page 10-12). This focused on their work to support heathland species while still carrying out commercial plantation forestry on a secondary woodland site. It is an interesting and promising approach.

          While there are biodiversity gains to be made by sensitive plantation management on secondary woodland sites, we would see this as a separate issue to the UK’s serious lack of semi-natural ancient woodland resource. It is the restoration of plantations on ancient woodland sites that we are focusing our efforts and resources.

          • hen says:

            That was a great case study Kay 🙂

            I wasn’t suggesting you put any resources into lobbying for more sustainable plantations. Just that you offer a bit more balance in your PR about the reality of plantations.

            Many people see your pictures and headlines, which in an instant leave an impression. I would cautiously suggest that far fewer read your case studies and reports which would inform those impressions.

            Thanks for your responses, much appreciated

  6. lornajill says:

    Excellent piece Austin, hear hear.

  7. hen says:

    Gosh… well said Austin. This is something Save Our Woods and the rest of the Forest Campaigns Network have been talking about since the begining of the Save Our Forests campaign. Many of the forest groups and forest communities have been saying it for many decades.

    I can’t tell you what a relief it is to finally hear you guys saying it too.

    What a force it would be if the Forestry Commission, Woodland Trust, Tree Council, Trees for Cities etc, Friends of Groups, Forest Campaigns Network, timber, wood products and paper industries REALLY pulled together. What a force to be reckoned with THAT would be. (the forestry stakeholder forum doesn’t really cut it yet, don’t you think?)

    Thanks for this blog Austin, I see it as a massive turning point and that feels amazing.


    • Kaye Brennan says:

      That’s some group Hen! Agree – what a force we could all be if we really do work together 🙂 You can be a huge help by sharing this with your FCN and SOW folks too.

  8. Aileen Cheetham says:

    YES I AGREE ITS BEEN CHANGE CHANGE CHANGE FOR DECADES. I do see that Woodland could get pushed out of the minds of our beleagured populace till it’s to late. There are few of us to stand against the powerful lobbies of Fracking and the like. We need to be vigilant and VOCAL AND PESTER OUR MP’S etc etc.
    I often think “Why can’t they leave us alone” but Money talks, Profit Screams and MP’s councillors etc are self aggrandising. We will have a hard long fight. Take sites for house building, there are loads of Brown Field Sites yet they repealed the Green Belt.
    Disgusted and ashamed of the mass complacency in this country.

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