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Posts tagged ‘Britain’

A tree for every British county

March 12, 2013

Gabriel Hemery

What tree best represents your county? Have your say in an online survey.

A tree for every British county - click to take the survey

A tree for every British county – click to take the survey

I’m sure that we would all have different views as to what tree should represent a county. Some may be obvious, others more obscure:

  • the last of our mature English Elms to represent East Sussex
  • sweet apple for Herefordshire
  • rowan for Dyfed
  • Scots pine for Grampian
  • pear for Gloucestershire
  • Sitka spruce for Northumberland …?

Maybe these are too obvious, so why not have your say? I’ve created a simple online survey using Survey Monkey called A tree for every British county.

To keep it simple the survey allows users to select just one tree for a county at a time. Feel free to take part in the survey as many times as you wish, selecting a different county each time though please!

I have ideas for using the results in a couple of novel ways and will publish the results here of course. I’ll keep the survey open for a while with the hope that this will attract more interest.

Click here to take survey

Britain’s Forgotten Forests – film transcript

August 18, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

I recently wrote about a short film that I’d made on behalf of the Sylva Foundation for the Forgotten Forests project, run by Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE).

I have been asked whether I could provide the full transcript.  I am pleased to offer it below.

Watch the film Britain’s Forgotten Forests

Gabriel Hemery

Britain’s Forgotten Forests

script for 2011 film short by the Sylva Foundation

Written and narrated: Gabriel Hemery (GH)

Camera:  Sarah Simblet

[railway carriage window]

Trees are the very heart of Britain’s landscape.   From majestic trees in fields and hedgerows, to copses in the rolling downs, to ancient hunting forests such as the New Forest, Sherwood, and the Forest of Dean.  How can Britain have “forgotten forests”?

Seen from the air, a train or the road, trees seem to be everywhere.  Even so, Britain is the second-least wooded country in Europe.

Britain was once almost entirely covered with trees.  By the early 20th Century however, just four percent of Britain was wooded.  As our trees disappeared, so did people’s connection with them.  We have forgotten how important trees are to us.

[car windscreen/mirror view of countryside]

We can’t afford the luxury of planting more trees merely for the sake of greening the landscape.  Trees need to work for us, while we protect them and make sure that they support wildlife.  We have forgotten the importance of working with nature and how this can be done at the same time as supporting rural economies.

We use a great deal of timber in Britain – it is our sixth largest import.  In terms of hardwoods alone, we import 1 million tonnes a year.  But we’ve seem to have forgotten that this timber comes from trees.  When we can it must be better to use home-grown timber than to import timber cut from someone else’s forests, perhaps thousands of miles away.

[GH arrival at woodland in car and walking in]

It’s a shocking fact that we don’t know much about our woodlands.  We don’t know who owns many of them and so it’s difficult to work with the owners towards common goals, such as improving their condition or producing materials.  Even worse, a large number of them are potentially unmanaged.

[GH walking through woodland]

In England the area of forests without management plans, the foundation of sustainable forest management, is equivalent to a 5 mile-wide wall of trees stretching over 450 miles long – running the entire length of England, from Truro to Newcastle.  Woodlands in Scotland and Wales are in much the same condition.  Some would say that these woodlands are forgotten or even neglected.

[GH to camera]


  • We’ve forgotten or take for granted how important trees are to us.
  • We’ve forgotten that woods need to be managed to support the wildlife that we cherish.
  • We’ve forgotten the importance of economics in woodland creation and management.
  • A large number of woodlands are forgotten and moribund – woodland owners need support and encouragement.

[GH walking away from woodland into open countryside – from behind, trees in foreground]

The Sylva Foundation, is a tree and forestry charity working to ensure that Britain’s woodlands thrive economically and environmentally for the benefit of everyone.

Woodlands can help us meet challenging times ahead in managing carbon and producing sustainable materials, and they will be important in helping us and wildlife cope with climate change.  They will help protect and provide for mankind long after my life has passed, and yours.  Let’s make sure that they are not forgotten.

Britain’s forgotten forests

August 11, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

I recently wrote and presented a short film for the Forgotten Forests project run by Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE).

In the film, entitled Britain’s forgotten forests, I explain that many of the forests in Britain are moribund and I suggest that people are increasingly disconnected from them.  I hope that the film will challenge British people to see the forests on their own doorsteps in a new light.  I was asked to produce the film by RBGE as part of the celebration of the UN’s International Year of Forests.

Watch Sylva’s film Britain’s Forgotten Forests or read more about the Forgotten Forests project here.

Gabriel Hemery

Update August 18 – read the full transcript here

Arboretum and tree collections in Britain

June 27, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Black walnut in Oxford Botanic Garden

Britain has many wonderful collections of trees in arboretums (arboreta), botanic gardens and country parks.  Many of these are some of the oldest collections in the world.  I’ve created an interactive Google map showing 23 of the finest collections of trees in Britain.

Black walnut in Oxford Botanic Garden

Black walnut (Juglans nigra) in Oxford Botanic Garden

Click on the map icons to read more about each collection and to visit its dedicated website. The map includes the following collections:

  • Ardkinglas Woodland Garden
  • Batsford Arboretum
  • Bedgebury Pinetum
  • Benmore Botanic Gardens
  • Bicton Park Botanical Gardens
  • Bodenham Arboretum
  • Cambridge University Botanic Garden
  • Dawyck Botanic Garden
  • Glasgow Botanic Gardens
  • Harcourt Arboretum
  • Ken Broad Arboretum
  • Kew Arboretum, Castle Howard
  • Kilmun Arboretum Argyll Forest Park
  • National Botanic Garden of Wales
  • Oxford Botanic Garden
  • RHS Garden Wisley
  • Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh
  • Stone Lane Gardens and Arboretum
  • Syon Park Gardens
  • Throp Perrow Arboretum
  • Westonbirt Arboretum
  • Winkworth Arboretum

I tried to ensure that this map represented a good geographic spread across Britain.  If you think that I’ve made any serious omissions I would be pleased to update the map; just send me the details in a comment below.

Gabriel Hemery

More forest plantations less green fuzz

June 18, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Forest of Dean plantation

Britain is the second-least wooded country in Europe, a fact that I’ve written about previously.  The prominent clarion call by Professor Sir David Read and colleagues in the Read Report of 2009 (see below) identified “a clear need for more woodlands”.  The proposed woodland expansion programme is for an additional 4% of forest cover to be established in Britain, which would see a welcome increase to a total of 16%, although Britain would remain one of the least-wooded European countries.

Unfortunately some seem to have seen used this as a call for more ‘native woodlands’.  Try a Google search for “read report increase woodland cover” and you will see what I mean.  As far as I recall, Read never called specifically for more ‘native woodlands’.  The native obsession is ironic and narrow-minded in that plantations of any appropriate species, if they are well-designed and managed, will remove the pressure from our existing and precious native semi-natural woodlands that many of these same organisations are striving to protect.

There’s nothing wrong with new ‘native woodlands’ per se but when their design and composition has ambition limited to greening the countryside, which is admirable in its own narrow way, they fall very far short of deliverying the sort of outputs that Read anticipated.

Read saw the increase in Britain’s woodland cover making a “significant contribution to meeting the UK’s challenging emissions reduction targets” with the aim of creating an emissions abatement equivalent to 10% of total green house gas emissions.  To achieve these targets we need to either lock up carbon in wood, and the most efficient means of doing this is by growing trees as a crop that will produce timber, or create renewable energy by producing wood fuel.  These can be provided together with social (e.g. recreation) and environmental (e.g. habitat provision) benefits.  This is the essence of modern plantation forestry: the activity in which the UK Forestry Commission excels.

If we continue to plant green fuzz across our food-producing fields, with little concern either for the impending need to be more self-sufficient in food production (read more), or for the need to reduce our enormous reliance on timber imports (Britain’s sixth largest import), Britain’s environmental credibility will be increasingly undermined.

Forest of Dean plantation

Forest plantations in the 21st Century are a long way in their design from the monocultural and regimental coniferous plantings that scarred so much of Britain’s upland landscapes in the early and mid 20th Century.  Advances in tree breeding are bringing the production of quality hardwoods nearer to becoming economically viable, while the new market for wood fuel is helping by producing income from thinnings; a natural by-product of a well-managed woodland.  Woodlands with ambitions to produce timber and fuel can deliver equally well in greening the landscape, or in providing wildlife habitat and places for people to exercise than any ‘native woodland’.  Conversely, planting more of the same ‘native woodlands’ that now litter the English countryside with little more ambition in their creation and management than a membership publicity drive or community engagement excercise, will be regretted long after the PR-masters behind them have past.  In their own way, these are as regrettable as the dark satanic rows of conifers that were planted sixty years ago.

The WWF is promoting a New generation of plantations that (note the fourth objective):

  1. maintain ecosystem integrity;
  2. protect the high conservation values;
  3. are developed through effective stakeholder participation processes;
  4. contribute to economic growth and employment.

The WWF suggest we should rethink our attitude to plantations, suggesting that they can be part of the solution more than the problem.  They recognise that plantation forestry is controversial:

Some companies have put profit before the planet and destroyed valuable forest habitats in order to expand their plantations. Some have also trampled the rights of forest communities and workers. Yet tree plantations can be developed without these impacts and thus help maintain the most valuable ecosystems while contributing for economic development and employment.

So, in the global context, Britain could help in its own way by aiming to satisfy more of its own timber and wood fuel needs by planting and managing more forest plantations.  We must wake up to our real environmental responsibilities, which extend way beyond our tiny shores.

As a first step, and so as to avoid the native debate for now (remember beech, sweet chestnut, walnut and all productive conifers are not native to most of Britain), let’s have a drive to plant ‘native plantations’.  To do so will mean that some environmental bodies will have to bite the bullet and start talking to their members about felling trees as well as planting them.  Now, that would demonstrate real environmental vision.

Gabriel Hemery

Read more

New Generation Plantations Project, WWF. Synthesis Report 2009

Read, D.J., Freer-Smith, P.H., Morison, J.I.L., Hanley, N., West, C.C. and Snowdon, P. (eds). 2009. Combating climate change – a role for UK forests. An assessment of the potential of the UK’s trees and woodlands to mitigate and adapt to climate change. The synthesis report. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh.

Tree species and provenance choice for Britain

February 22, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

There are about 60 species of tree that are native to Britain but many more have been introduced over centuries.  Even those that we consider quintessentially British, such as Sweet Chestnut or ‘English’ walnut are actually non-native; both having been introduced by the Romans.  It is important that we protect and enhance forests that contains native tree species.  At the same time, many scientists now agree that it would be foolhardy to be focus exclusively on planting native species and using locally-native-only material.


Forest reproductive materials mapTechnically Great Britain is divided into four regions of provenance (origin): defined areas within which similar ecological and climatic characteristics are found (see map).  The areas provide a framework for specifying sources of Forest Reproductive Material (FRM) but must not be treated too literally.  Many of these boundaries are actually national borders or even motorways.  In reality of course, a tree on the west side of a motorway is not likely to be genetically distinct from one on the east side, just because the motorway is the defining line between two regions or areas.  Many people don’t realise that plenty of oak pollen is blown over the English Channel from France, and birch pollen across the North Sea from Scandinavia.  So, the notion of locally-native genetic material is not as simple as some conservationists suppose.

Future-proof trees and forests

More importantly, looking forward, we must ensure that our treescapes (trees in cities, scattered trees in the landscape, and woodlands and forests) are resilient and future-proof.  With increasing threats from pests and diseases, combined with a changing climate, it is more important than ever that our trees are able to cope with these threats, and that they can continue to provide for our needs.  Our choice of tree species is a critical factor and using some ‘exotic’ genetic material in our native tree species may be very important to ensure genetic diversity (e.g. trees native to Britain sourced from northern continental Europe).  Equally important, planting non-native trees in certain forests will help ensure genetic diversity at the landscape scale, and thereby ensure that our forests are resilient.  I wrote about this in a practical guide.

Online toolkit

Two leading scientists from Forest Research, Bill Mason and Richard Jinks, have created a fantastic online resource: providing information on over 60 tree species that are either widely grown in British forests at the present time or which could play an increasing role in the future, focusing on those species which could be expected to produce usable timber in British conditions.

Visit Forest Research’s Tree Species and Provenance toolkit

Gabriel Hemery

Read more

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