The UK’s Forestry Commission has opened a public consultation into the idea of restoring open habitats in England.
Traditionally the rush to afforest open land was seen, by the government, as a wise way to gain useful timber on less productive parts of the countryside. Some areas with important open habitats were also overtaken by ‘successional’ woodland – trees that colonised naturally.
However, today it is recognised that along the way the impact was not always good for biodiversity. Many of today’s conservation projects are working to restore habitats such as heathland and grassland.
The FC consultation document says: “We need a policy to enable effective decision making about when it is right to remove woods and forests on potential open habitat and when it is right to retain them. This will help make sure that we have a landscape that delivers more public benefits overall now and in the future and a process of change that is supported by most people.”
Take a look at the FC consultation here:
How big will the change be?
The FC identify potential extra open habitat types across 130,000 hectares (1ha = 10,000 m2) but admit that is too big a target. They give an example of a ‘workable’ target of clearing between 370 ha and 3,000 ha per year, for a project period of 10 to 15 years.
So the range of possible total area lies between a rather modest 5,600 ha up to 30,000 ha. This is complicated by one of the policy points proposed by FC:
‘avoid net deforestation in England’
How will this work?
Can the FC really match those aims? By trying to avoid deforestation and saying they want to clear woodland, are they showing an emotional conflict with their traditionally embedded love for timber?
Or is this wish to balance of woodland removal and creation a very sensible way of avoiding the loss of potential woodfuel and biodiversity resources? Carbon, after all, is vital currency to the latest government policies.
Then there is the question of the English public accepting new policies. Is wood too engrained in the British idea of wildlife conservation to enable a sucessful rejuvenation of open habitats? Far more people are aware of the idea of deforestation than realise the vast losses of wetlands to forestry and farming. They might not want to let go of English ‘rainforests’ even if calcareous grassland supports more types of wildflower.
What would you save?
Which plantations, or secondary woodlands would you ask the FC to save, and which would you sacrifice? If you knew that we might lose a few thousand Blue Tit but gain a few thousand Skylark or Tiger Beetle, would you be happy?
Does this policy proposal strike a chord with your wildlife priorities?