Forests at your service

By Michael Smith (Veshengro), RFA, EcoFor

Recently the UK’s forests have come under attack from our Government, so says the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) in a press statement and continues that it hopes that politicians will pay attention to both the UN International Year of Forests and World Environment Day’s theme of Forests: Nature at Your Service, and recognize the value that forests provide when trees are kept alive.

The truth is, however, that, while the British government was intending to sell off some of the Forestry Commission lands there was no threat ever, in all truth and reality, to the British forests. The private forest companies in Britain are often do a much better job in managing the forests and woodlands that they own, and that in probably more than three-quarters of all cases.

The Forestry Commission also was never created to look after our forests, to begin with, and still does not, theoretically, have that brief. Its job was to produce timber – more than the private owners were willing to produce – for the nation, for the war effort. Thus we must see it all in perspective.

In other countries there is a much better system in place and the government forestry services in places such as Germany, France, Poland, etc. have a different brief and while it is also the production of timber on behalf of the nation the forest services are also the custodian of the nations' forests, all the forests, including the privately owned ones in many countries and cases.

Forests cover one third of the earth’s land mass, with 1.6 billion people depending on them for their livelihoods. They play a key role in our battle against climate change; are essential to supplying the water for nearly 50 percent of our largest cities; create and maintain soil fertility; and are home to more than half of the terrestrial species of animals, plants and insects.

However, deforestation and forest degradation account for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, which forests would absorb if carefully managed. Legal deforestation takes place because countries can earn money and create jobs by selling trees and clearing land for agriculture. These are legitimate objectives for governments to pursue, but forests store vast quantities of carbon dioxide which is released back into the atmosphere when they are destroyed. Under the Kyoto Protocol it is more valuable to cut forests down than to leave them standing. The CIWEM believes that correcting this market failure will require recognising that protecting forests is not only an environmental concern but an economic issue that cuts to the core of a nation's development.

An investment of US$30 billion fighting deforestation and degradation could provide a return of US$2.5 trillion in new products and services. Furthermore, targeted investments in forestry could generate up to 10 million new jobs around the world. This vast monetary value demonstrates why conserving and enhancing our natural capital should be prioritized as quickly and robustly as other cost-saving measures that governments around the world are currently implementing.

Justin Taberham, Director of Policy at the the CIWEM, says: “Scientists have warned that without measures to keep forests intact, we stand no chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change. A failure to act on deforestation could double the cost of avoiding dangerous climate change to 2030; failure to halt deforestation will lead to greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere exceeding safe levels, even if industrial emissions are reduced to zero. Forests need to become a universal political priority.”

Deforestation should not, and that is my view, be pursued at all for we need more forests than ever before in order to combat the green house gases that cause climate change.

Often the fact that from the industrial revolution onwards the CO2 level in the atmosphere has been rising and rising is being quoted. No one, it would appear, however, seems to be prepared to link that with the very fact that during the industrial revolution and ever since we have been causing wholesale destruction to the world's forests, in many cases clear felling them in order to establish town, cities and factories.

It is, therefore, no wonder that CO2 has been increasing and increasing ever since that time for it was the forests (and other trees) that kept the carbon level – pardon the pun – level.

Aside from destroying forests the world over in our pursuit for gain and resources we have also, and this especially ever since the Second World War, been concreting and tarmacking over the countryside and even our suburban gardens. We have destroyed the avenues of trees that lined virtually each and every (country) road in Britain and other European countries, often providing fruit for the local population in that the local residents had the right to those apples, pears, plums, cherries, etc.

Those very trees, and other plants, that were destroyed also, obviously, we sequestering carbon from the air and storing it in their trunks and branches and often they would store this for hundreds of years for after they died they would be made into furniture which would become heirlooms.

We need more trees and not just in forests, although we also need more forests, as we simply will need more wood, for a variety of needs and uses, including firewood and biomass once the oil has come to an end.

What, obviously, always is a great shame, is when an organization such as the CIWEM put out statements such as this press one of which I have included some of the material.

As far as I, as a professional and commercial forester, could see there was never a threat of destruction of the Forestry Commission lands that were under consideration to be sold to private forestry companies, such as Fountain Forestry, Tilhill, etc. None of them would have gone about felling the trees and then walking away. Those companies own large tracts of British forests already and manage them very well indeed, often better as does the FC.

No woodland or forest owner in his right mind will ever clear fell and then walk away from it. Woodlands and forests are managed to make a profit for the owner, present and future, for we must not forget that trees are a crop that we plant and, in the main, our grandchildren may harvest. But trees are a crop in the same way as wheat or potatoes are a crop.

Woods and forests that are not managed properly, unless they happen to be forests never touched by human hand, also also of no benefit to anyone. They need man in order to keep them going, and this is especially true for woods and forests that have been managed before and most particularly for the likes of coppice woodlands.

© 2011