MOVING FROM FORESTRY
TO WOODLAND AND HILL FARMING
Originally published in the January 2005 issue of Sovereignty
Alistair McConnachie, right, planting a 3-acre woodland in
Galloway with his father in December 2004, writes:
In this article we are defining "forestry" as commercial conifer plantation and "woodland" as native hardwood plantation.
Between the 1930s and '80s hundreds of thousands of acres of what remained of Britain's ancient woodlands were felled and replanted, mostly with commercial conifers.
The Woodland Trust tells us that over the next 10 years, most of the conifers planted on ancient woodland sites will reach economic maturity. This represents an enormous opportunity for those of us who want to see a move to natural woodland and the increased bio-diversity it brings.
Moreover, much of our traditional hill farming areas have been, and continue to be, planted with conifers, with one seventh of commercial British forestation in Galloway alone.
In 1999 responsibility for forestry was devolved, with Westminster retaining responsibility for forestry in England and for international issues.
DAMAGING ASPECTS OF COMMERCIAL FORESTATION
Mass forestation with Sitka Spruce conifers has been a regressive act which has replaced agricultural diversity with mono-culture. Mass forestation leads to a loss of people, landscape, farm animals, wild animals, flora, fauna, the built-heritage, including settlements, farms, dykes, and the social-cultural heritage. The conifer canopy destroys all the wildlife
and vegetation beneath it.
Land that cannot be planted is left as a wilderness area which can lead to the loss of species, the domination of predators and the loss of ground-nesting birds.
When rain falls on peaty soil, the vegetation will act as a filter. However, once the trees are felled there is nothing to absorb the rain, which gouges out the rivers. Salmon can't spawn because the gravel where they laid their eggs is gouged away by the torrent, and because the acidification levels of the water are too high.
Such forestry gives little employment to the area, jobs are often contracted out, and the machines often damage the roads. The Sitka Spruce plantations, many of which have been growing for 40 years, are often not profitable when cut down.
Sovereignty believes we need to move from commercial forestation
of softwoods on our ancient woodland areas and hill grounds, to native hardwood woodlands and hill farming.
GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR WOODLAND AND HILL POLICY
- People are the most essential species interacting with the land. If we lose the core - the people -- then we can't survive with "diversification" alone. Agriculture is the basis of many rural areas, and without it a diverse countryside will not be possible.
- Local people to remain in control.
- Woodland is superior to forestry.
- Bio-diversity of flora and fauna to be encouraged.
- Hill farming to be supported and encouraged. Animals are environmental activists. On traditional hill farms, the sheep and cattle keep down the bracken and heather -- which means we don't need the indiscriminate application of "environmental"
programmes, promoted by pharmaceutical companies, using pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides to control them. As sheep and cattle are removed, under-grazing depletes the herbage because the hill ground becomes overwhelmed with these weeds. Government is not recognising the relevance, reinstatement and continuation of traditional hill farms. At present, the only safety net for a farmer who wants to retire is to sell to forestry!
- Forestry Commission to restore all its ancient woodland sites presently planted with conifers, with native hardwoods, thereby acting as an example to other landowners.
- Generous grants for hardwood development. Planting and managing a wood is something that rarely creates a return on investment within one's working lifetime. Therefore,
woodland planting must be largely subsidised by government as a common good.
- Woodlands to replace felled Sitka Spruce forests in those areas where land cannot revert to agricultural use.
- Encourage woodcraft skills such as coppicing, charcoal burning, timber building, wood craftsmanship, and develop markets for such products.
- Increase greening of towns and cities with hardwoods.
HILL FARMING POLICIES
- Make Forestry Commission fully accountable and transparent. The Forestry Commission controls vast tracts of hill land yet there is concern that it is an unaccountable quango.
- Tenants of farms on Forestry Commission land to be allowed to pass the land to legatees or assignees. This is presently prohibited in the conditions of Forestry Commission tenancies in Scotland! A prohibition which prevents any ability to hill farm for the long-term.
- An end to mass conifer forestation on traditional hill farms.
- Conifer plantation limited to maximum of 10 acres.
- Hill land to be sold or rented only to individuals or families for the purposes of farming, not to corporations, pension funds or foreign buyers for large-scale
- Empower local communities legally to oppose forestation.
The Forestry Commission can be contacted for information on grants for woodland planting, at www.forestry.gov.uk The National Office for Scotland is at Silvan House, 231 Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh, EH12 7AT, Tel: 0131 314 6156.
The Woodland Trust, Autumn Park, Dysart Road, Grantham,
Lincolnshire, NG31 6LL; Tel: 01476 581111. www.woodland-trust.org.uk
Recycling Wood. The UK produces 2m tons of post-consumer wood waste a year. 800,000 tonnes is recycled, leaving 1.2m tons of wood products rotting in landfills. A new wood-recycling information service has been launched to help identify collection and recycling services in your area. www.recyclewood.org.uk