Is it time for the Forestry Commission to be stood down?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

European Beech1lowIs it time for the Forestry Commission, maybe, to be stood down and that our woodlands (and our forests) be placed into cooperative – I did say cooperative not corporate – management? I certainly do think so and so does the cooperative movement. At least they do think so as far as cooperative management of our woodlands is concerned.

I am not saying that the British Forestry Commission is not fit for purpose; it has had its time and purpose and its original purpose, when founded just after World War One, has been fulfilled, and that already a long time ago. Thus the Commission is, to all intents and purposes, obsolete; both the purpose and the Commission.

The original brief of the Forestry Commission was to produce timer for the trenches for another possible way (in the end World War Two was different and did not require that much on timber for trench fortification) and for the pits, the mines, and that was the very reason for pine and spruce plantations. Today, however, our woods (and forests) require a different kind of direction and management and the Commission, in fact, seems to be almost incapable of providing that, and our industry is asking for more hardwood than softwood.

While we might need in Britain, a Ministry or Department, of Woods and Forests, that has an advisory role and a legislative one and one especially that ensures that our forest cover is increased rather than diminished and that the appropriate trees are planted and that woods are managed in the age-old ways that have served us and the woods so very well over previous millennia, and that also has a hand in research, and quasi-quango such as is the Forestry Commission is surplus to requirements.

Our country's woodlands especially, and here in particular those that are in “public” hands, for starters, should be handed over to be managed by interested community groups, but also by individuals and small cooperative enterprises, to be run for the good of the wood and the nation.

While the Commission talks much about the need of bringing all the woods in Britain back into production it does very little to actually facilitate this and often seems more of a hindrance.

The Forestry Commission, to a great degree, despite its many words, has become focused on the amenity use of its – actually the nation's – forests and far too many resources are pumped into the creation of “play grounds”, be those mountain bike trails, or whatever, and treat the forests more and more like a leisure enterprise and nature “reserves”. Wrong approach. Period!

The Commission keeps talking about the need of bringing more, ideally all, of our woods back into production but still does not seem to understand how this is too happen while at the same time pandering to leisure and recreation and creating trails for this and that.

The brief of the Forestry Commission from its founding was the production of timer for the War Department and the mines and not for furniture manufacturing and even building in Britain. The majority of the hardwood for furniture came from abroad, from the Empire, with but a little home-grown.

What is needed today is timber for British industry, including the building industry, from local sources, and the predominately conifer plantations of the Forestry Commission cannot supply that.

In years gone by our woods and forests had greater biodiversity and wildlife in spite little debris being left on the forest floor. Is our modern management to blame? I certainly do think so and so do others.

If we want state forestry, and national forests, in the United Kingdom it would be best to have a proper Ministry of Forests and a Forest Service but by far better would it be to have proper cooperative community-based management of our woodlands and forests – all of them.

The Forestry Commission is, basically, the law maker – or maker of the rules governing forestry (granting felling licenses, for instance) while it is also the biggest producer of timber. Thus it is almost like putting the fox in charge of the hen house. We need a Ministry of Forests or a Department of Forests that governs – where needed – operators and not a quango like the Forestry Commission.

© 2015