On Tuesday I found myself looking up at the marvellous hammer beam roof of Westminster Hall – a marvel of medieval engineering and a legacy of our managed woodland past – on my way to a reception with the Minister of State for Tree Planting and Woodlands, Lord Goldsmith, and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) set up to inform Government on the progress of its tree and woodland strategies. As WftT followers will know from previous blogs, reports so far suggest that the Govt are going to miss their planting targets. As I found out from Stuart Goodall, the head of Confor (the industry body for timber production that informs the APPG and acts as its secretariat), the impending crisis in UK timber and woodland products is about to get worse: most of our timber comes from three countries: Russia, Ukraine and Belarus….
The minister said all the right things, and there’s little doubt that he takes the planting, biodiversity and timber situation very seriously. I distributed quite a few of our new A5 leaflets (drop us a line if you’d like a few to share with friends) and promoted Woods for the Trees as hard as I could. One result is that Confor, of whom I’m a member, are going to write a profile about our work (with a plug for my new book The Museum of the Wood Age) in their industry magazine later this year.
On a note of more immediate concern, the state of the South Field project in County Durham was raised with a number of people, and some good progress was made. In essence, the project has been held up for nearly two years because of concerns about the proximity of this planned new native woodland to nearby populations of nesting birds – mainly curlews and lapwings. The nature conservation lobby stress that the predators attracted to the woods will prey on the nests – and there’s no doubt it IS an issue, if difficult to put exact numbers on.
Our revised scheme, which retains all the nature, community and educational benefits in the original plan, is reduced in size and with a commitment to control predators (not something we are very comfortable with – foxes and crows have rights, too). At the meeting on Tuesday I was able to interest both Confor and the RSPB (for once outnumbered and outgunned) to agree that setting South Field up as a research project – an idea proposed by the very enlightened Richard Pow at Forestry England – would help to inform all the many other tree planting applications currently being held up or rejected for similar reasons. There may be light at the end of the tunnel.
As a result of that meeting I have also been invited to a meeting with my local MP, Richard Holden (NW Durham) to see how he can help. Needless to say, I will be encouraging Richard to see how he can help with furthering the broader aims of WftT, particularly our Nuts for the Trees project to get school children growing trees from seed.
With a higher profile, WftT can achieve more positive action on trees and social ecologies – and all without money changing hands…