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Conference calls for more collaboration in face of change to woodlands
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"The urgency that brings us together is the rapidity of environmental change, its unpredictability and its complexity, along with possibly related threats to the health of trees and woodlands."

So said Royal Forestry Society (RFS) President Sophie Churchill OBE, addressing a packed audience at the 2015 NDG James Conference, Resilient Woodlands: Meeting the challenges.

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RFS President Sophie Churchill OBE addressing the conference

The conference was hosted by the long-established Royal Forestry Society and the well-known national charity for woodland, the Woodland Trust. Sophie asked the conference, should we doing anything except the best practice we have always known about? And she was answered as speakers from across the sector warned of a need for planning now for a range of possible future environmental change scenarios.

Woodland owners, academics, students and forestry professionals from a wide range of organisations heard experts talk about:

  • increased collaboration across the sector to raise awareness of the threats faced by woodlands and forests;
  • the need for a shared evidence base to inform decision-making;
  • how to provide more guidance and support for those looking to manage woodlands for generations to come.

In challenging plenary sessions there was consensus that the sector needs to get behind the Climate Change Accord signed by over 40 forestry bodies. And there was praise from the audience for the breadth of speakers and the knowledge they shared: " I learned more than I could possibly have expected," said one delegate.

Speakers looked at all the dimensions involved in making woodlands and forestry able to withstand change, from woodland economics to conservation and from research and innovation.

Gabriel Hemery from Sylva Foundation shared headline results from the British WoodlandSurvey 2015 into resilience, revealing that 9/10 woodland owners and other forestry professionals who responded to the national survey had observed at least one form of impact in the past 10 years.

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Packed audience hears experts talk about forestry resilience from all perspectives

The initial survey findings will be followed by more detailed results after further analysis. The results will aid organisations, policy makers and researchers and will inform the government’s National Adaptation Programme for England. Gabriel also put out a call for anyone interested in begin part of qualitative survey follow up to get in touch.

 Beccy Speight, Chief Executive of Woodland Trust, who chaired the afternoon session, told delegates there were lessons to be learned from how businesses approach challenges: "Let us increase our choice options and share what we have. Businesses worry about the immediate cash flow, but they constantly grow their knowledge, they constantly research, test and find evidence for the direction they are going to take and they tend not to have assumptions and prejudices. Challenge is good and businesses use it all the time and I wonder if this big change is also an opportunity , that the solution lies in relevance and therefore survival."

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Plenary session answers questions from the floor

In her closing remarks Sophie challenged delegates: "Let us think about how we go out and advocate for forestry in government, with our neighbours, with our parents and with our children in a way which will really make this resilience issue land in the wider consciousness."