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Why we should all be proud of forestry excellence

About the author Rachelthomas Eif2018blog Wn 221117

Rachel Thomas has a forestry related MSc and PhD and after an early career in the voluntary sector in Buckinghamshire and the North-West Highlands she joined Natural England’s predecessors initially as a woodland ecologist.

Rachel has more than 25 years’ experience of woodland and conservation management locally and nationally and latterly combined this with running high profile communications events and programmes. Rachel has strong connections across the forestry and conservation sectors and spent three years advising English Heritage and MoD on the nature conservation value of their own estates.

Rachel Thomas is the RFS Excellence in Forestry Awards Co-ordinator. The 2019 Awards are now open for entries from across the South East of England here

For me, the RFS Excellence in Forestry Award is a great opportunity to showcase to the forestry sector, and to a wider world, the benefits that society derives from excellent woodland management. Many of the issues affecting forestry today e.g. failure to manage woods, lack of understanding about the source of many of our raw materials, lack of understanding about the cause of and ways to manage pests and disease, and a reduced interest in forestry as a potential career come from a lack of awareness in society at large of the need for woodland management. The Award provides an opportunity to be seen to be getting it right.

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Woods and forests provide a huge range of benefits that society sometimes takes for granted. Although well understood within the forestry sector they are not necessarily appreciated outside. You know that these include wood and timber for craft, energy and construction purposes; providing for our mental and physical wellbeing; providing employment and stimulating economic growth locally or more widely; helping us adapt to climate change by providing cool shady places especially in hot urban areas, helping ‘slow the flow’ and contributing to flood alleviation and management and storing carbon; contributing to landscape and nature conservation; archiving change in social, land use and landscape history; providing charcoal for artists and inspiration for the arts; providing food whether through agro-forestry, small scale foraging or field sports; absorbing noise and pollution and so screening people, communities and special sites from these intrusions and threats; and at the end of our lives providing peaceful green burial sites as an alternative to church yards, municipal cemeteries or crematoria.

Two personal examples of this lack of connection have struck me during the last few weeks. I am renovating my house and am considering the installation of a wood burning stove. For my designer this is a way of creating a warm cosy atmosphere but when she learnt that I had a forestry background she suddenly became anxious that I would not be comfortable cutting wood or felling trees to fuel it. For me the deeper connection that I will now establish with my local community woodland to source, possibly through my own labour, the fuel adds to the benefits I will gain when I’m warm and snug in the winter. Similarly, a conversation with an IT and web design colleague prompted a renewed realisation for him regarding the source of the joists in the roof of the building in which we were sitting. 

It’s only through ensuring high quality woodland management and talking about it to a wider world that we will help people distinguish between excellence and exploitation in forestry. This is the assurance that FSC accreditation and other schemes have so successfully provided and the RFS Excellence Award has a role to play here too.


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I really would like to encourage more woodland owners from all parts of the forestry sector to apply both in those sectors where they already excel be it silviculture, farms woods, community or education or all round excellence and resilience; but also in those categories where they might not be considered the ‘usual suspects’. For example does the Woodland Trust or one of the Wildlife Trusts consider that they have woods or compartments being so well managed commercially that they could enter the silvicultural award category, or is there a commercial estate making such a contribution to their community that they feel able to enter under the education or community categories? What opportunities are there for several landowners to apply jointly when they all contribute to a larger scheme at a landscape scale?

I had the pleasure of attending the 2017 presentations earlier this year at Grimsthorpe Castle and had the thrill of seeing the beautiful trophies laid out on a table before the awards ceremony. Most of these are wooden, beautifully turned or carved and polished and inlaid with silver carrying the names of the winners. But what is the story of these items? Who made them? What are the made from? Where did the wood grow? For how many years have they been presented? The craftsmen and women who made them demonstrated excellence in their skills. It would be wonderful to celebrate that as well.