The year that forestry came of age

Our media is awash with reviews of 2011 and so it seemed fitting to add my own forestry year, as 2011 was a truly eventful time for trees and forestry. It was the year that forestry came of age in modern society.

Forestry in 2011 was elevated to international prominence from the outset thanks to the United Nations declaring it the International Year of the Forest, although World Forestry Day 2011 failed to excite. I had an active international year myself, visiting the spectacular walnut forests of Kyrgyzstan, learning about future forestry policy developments in Brussels and speaking at a conference in India on the subject of Wood Culture.

The UK Government chose 2011 as the year to privatise the public forest estate in England but their ill-conceived plans not only clashed with the spirit of the UN’s celebration of the forest, but managed to motivate hundreds of thousands of people to object. The online revolt was led by 38 Degrees, assisted by activities on Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and many hurriedly created dedicated websites. Ultimately the plans were dropped with a humiliating U-turn by Government but were doomed from the start (see Ten Reasons why the forest sale failed). I became deeply involved in this debate myself, commenting publicly on the proposed sales (see BBC TV interview and international radio interview).

The future of our forests still hang in the air however, as the UK Government’s Independent Panel on Forestry is deliberating the nature of the public forest estate, and steering long-term forestry policy.  Later in 2011 I established, with six other environmentalists, the ginger group Our Forests: aiming to act as watch dog of the independent panel and to provide a voice for the public. Late in 2011 I contributed to a cross-sectoral review on woodlands and forests in the UK (read more). 2012 will be eventful with the independent panel due to hold public discussions early in the year; publishing their final report in July. Meanwhile, Our Forests will be publishing its own vision for England’s trees and forests imminently.

Even while these political shenanigans were afoot, our trees and forests were under attack from an ever-increasing number of natural threats. Britain saw its largest outbreaks of wildfires for decades in May (read more) while attacks from pests and pathogens seem to be getting ever worse. Phytophthora ramorum was found on European larch (Larix decidua) for the first time, and spread from southwest England to Wales, and to northern England by the summer. Later in the year another Phytophthora (P. lateralis) was discovered on Lawson’s Cypress. The oak processionary moth continued its slow expansion in southern England, despite desperate attempts to control its spread (read more). I played a small part in helping to increase public awareness of Acute Oak Decline, the disease affecting our native oaks, and helped to raise funds to support research to tackle it, by taking part in the inaugural Ride for Research. Ultimately, the outlook for our trees is deeply concerning due to the combined effects of climate change and the international trade in plants (read more).

I will remember 2011 as the year that the people embraced their forests. I hope that this interest, unprecedented in modern times, will survive during 2012. Myself, I am looking forward to an exciting 2012 for a number of reasons. As mentioned above, Our Forests will soon be publishing its vision for England’s forests; you can keep track of progress by subscribing to this blog or @GabrielHemery. I have some exciting news regarding a book deal that I will be announcing in a couple of days, and which will see me very busy writing during 2012. I am also preparing to launch a new open access journal for silvology later in 2012, which has long been a personal ambition.

This blog may suffer as a result of these activities. During 2011 I published fairly reliably at least one post every week. I may not be able to maintain this level of writing in 2012 but nonetheless, I will ensure this blog is active.

Thank you to all my readers for their insightful comments and online comradery over the year. Wishing you a fruitful 2012.

Gabriel Hemery

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