Monday, 28 November 2011

A Christmas Message from ICF President, Fenning Welstead

A very warm festive greeting to all of you. After a warmer late autumn than for many years it has finally turned colder with a reported –5 degrees in Buckinghamshire. It has been strange to find hazel buds ready to burst and, in the garden, lupins are enjoying a second flowering. Did we put in the poly-tunnel to keep our vegetables warmer or to keep the rain off? It has been that kind of year.

In a letter to the Scotsman in July, I wrote about the deplorable situation that sees “production of timber” almost absent from forestry objectives. I was gratified to receive support for its restoration as a prime reason for forest management. It is a paradox that while the majority of new planting is for environmental purposes there is a simultaneous drive to bring existing woodlands into management as a means of increasing wood supply. New woodlands can meet environmental objectives and generate wood products for future generations, with public grant achieving public good on multiple fronts.

Talking to people in the energy markets there is a frequent comment that we have only seen a fraction of the potential re-rating in timber prices that this could bring. With this demand apparently on the increase it is vital that we establish woods and forests that have timber production as a core objective.

By the time you read this we may have received the interim report from the Independent Panel on Forestry. It will need careful reading and response. Will it reflect the changes that are required in forestry? Will it recommend that society needs to value the many benefits that trees and woodlands bring and suggest ways of doing this? It will need careful reading and consideration.

The recent announcement on the demise of the Forestry Commission in Wales will affect much more than Wales. Will there be enough of a critical mass in public sector forestry to maintain a Forestry Commission GB? And, if not, where will our research capability lie? The Institute may need to play a much greater role in professional forestry issues in future.

In Scotland we are struggling under the change that has seen forestry funding move away from the Forestry Commission into the arms of the agricultural departments. A better mix of farm and forest would undoubtedly be desirable but I’m not clear that we will get that if we dispense with the political clout of the FC. What is to replace it? I’ll leave you to ponder.

ICF is planning to debate these issues and more in our next national conference on Future Forestry to be held in London in May next year. Forestry policy in the UK is changing and changing fast. If you have views on the future – and it is your career, after all – then please, come and join in the debate.

To end on a positive note, it is my belief that we could and should be planting a wider variety of species, both in our citites and as commercial timber crops. In this regard, I was encouraged to come across a stand of young ash in a Galloway spruce forest where they were happily keeping up in terms of height growth, and where they would clearly yield a useful firewood thinning and, potentially, a worthy final crop. Yes, it was a small stand but it had been planted densely on a decent pocket of soil and the decision was bearing fruit. It might be time to dig out your Selection of Tree Species.

A Merry Christmas to one and all.