The importance of reafforestation

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

13942506_1111418662227684_221703025_nWhile reafforestation, the planting of new woodlands and forests, is more important than ever we must remember that those cannot replace ancient woods. Ancient woods are woods that have been wood continuously, even though they are not wild woods (there are no wild woods in Britain and only one or two in Europe) and have been managed and used by man, and thus are a compete ecosystem. A newly plated wood will need decades to become an ecosystem in its own right and the variety of life that exists in ancient woods will take at least a century if not more to materialize.

Furthermore it also does not good to think that any type of tree will do for this reafforestation. They have to be the right kind and the right mix as we must get away from the conifer monocultures that have been created and called forests and woods over the last five decades or more.

While it is true that there are areas and regions where broadleaved trees may not thrive and it is thus best to plant conifers that too then, ideally, should be a mix and planted in such a way that they create a habitat rather than an almost sterile forest.

As far as other areas are concerned, and not just in the UK, they must be planted with a mix of more-or-less native species of broadleaved trees, and in that realm I also, despite the anti-clamor of many so-called experts, trees such as the Sycamore (Acer pseudoplantanus), which in Germany is called, in translation, Mountain Maple, while not being native per se has been naturalized in Britain ever since Roman times and hence should, by now, have citizen status.

Where broadleaved trees do not do to well, as previously said, the conifer high forest is the only option and pine and spruce wood has its uses too. But in all other places the way to go must be the one of bringing back the species that once populated the local woods and they must be managed, again, as coppices and coppice with standards, so that also large oaks and other hardwoods are grown.

Alas, there are two problems. One of them being the forestry industry that is looking for a rather quick return on investment and thus wants to grow fast growing trees, and most of those are, obviously, conifers, ready to be felled in about forty to sixty years. The second one is that “environmentalists” wish woods and forests to be planted in order to be left to nature or other already long established and managed woods to go back to wilderness. And neither idea is a good one.

If we want to have homegrown wood and timber and products from them we must manage our woods and forests in such a way that produces such timber that can be used by local woodland businesses, whether it is for the making of charcoal, for firewood, for beanpoles, for treen goods, or for furniture and everything else that one can think of made from wood.

Bringing in firewood, as has been done (and probably still is being done), to satisfy the demand for it in Britain from countries as far afield as Poland and Western Russia and the calling it sustainable heating fuel does not only not compute but is not sustainable. However, there just is not enough wood coming out of the home woods to satisfy the demand, alone for firewood let alone for anything else.

Tool makers in Britain would like to use British ash for handles but cannot get that in sufficient numbers and thus have to import American ash to make into handles.

Britain was once an island of trees and woodland industries were found everywhere where there were woods, and all the wood harvested locally was used locally, in general. Today, however, Britain is the least wooded country of all the EU member states and if we are not very careful the percentage of woods and forests in Britain will decline even further if the powers-that-be, but which probably rather should not be, have their ways.

While reafforestation is more important than ever and the creation of new woods and forests to increase the tree cover in the British Isles those woods and forests cannot replace our ancient woods and for that reason they need to be protected but also carefully managed for the benefit of the woods, the wildlife and the economy.

© 2016

Photo credit K. Kozubek, Berlin