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Plant more trees or Manage existing woodlands? Have your say …

November 14, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Poll at

Should we be planting more trees or managing our existing woodlands? I have strong views on this that may not be shared by others. I’ve written on my blog before about the hundreds of thousands of hectares of woodlands in England that are not being managed (England’s wall of moribund woodland). I have also had a poke at the large number of short-sighted planting schemes that are resulting in low-value (read ‘unsustainable’) woodland littering our countryside (More forest plantations less green fuzz). Finally, I have discussed the likely scenarios of a future where, with 7 billion people to feed today increasing to 9 billion by 2050, land will be too important for food production to permit an increase in land area dedicated to the growing of wood fibre (Land for trees or food).

Next time I tackle my teenage daughter over the state of her bedroom, I could say “Never mind, just leave it and have this empty room next door and start over!”.

In short I believe simply that we should be managing our existing woodlands better before we plant more. If I was allowed a caveat it would be “to manage existing… at least while we plant more” so I may be tempted to answer “Both”. But what do you think? I would like all my readers to have a say by completing this poll. I am sure I can be criticised by trying to persuade my readers first and then ask them their views, and I’m sure a social scientist would have a field day! However, I am confident that there are many readers with equally strong views that will differ from mine and that they will not hold back in setting out their arguments by using the Comment box below, so we should have a good debate to help inform. So over to you …

I will keep this poll open for several months in the hope of a good response rate. I am sure that this poll need not only apply to English forests and land use, but also to many other countries around the world. So wherever you’re from, do have a say.

Gabriel Hemery

La France et ses forêts

July 14, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Chene d'Ecole, Belleme Forest

Translate to French

Aujourd’hui, c’est la Fête Nationale en France: today is Bastille Day in France.  It seemed to be a perfect occasion to celebrate France and its wonderful trees and forests.

Le peuple français et ses forêts

The trees and forests of France are deeply engrained in the French people’s psyche.  As a fellow tree blogger recently wrote:

“French schoolchildren are being bussed out to Forests to ensure the next generation will experience and connect with trees and introduced to the fact that forests are as vital to health and life as the blood within them or food at their table.”  read more …

Les forêts de la France

France forest cover by department

Reproduced from the IFN. Click image for an excellent guide to French forests (in English)

The country has three times the proportion of forested land than the UK (read more).  The French National Forest Inventory (IFN) estimates that there are 1,380,000 km² (53,000 sq mi) of forested land in mainland France; 63% is broadleaved forest.  Public ownership of forests is about 26%, compared to 18% in the UK (read more).

France is blessed with so many large forests, with six departments having more than half their territory covered by forest.  Here’s a list of France’s largest forests, over 100 km² (1,000 hectares) in area (compare to the UK’s largest forests):

  • Forêt des Landes (12,650 km²) – Aquitane
  • Forêt d’Arc (11,225 km²) – Rhône-Alpes
  • Forêt du Mont-Ventoux (800 km²) – Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur
  • Forêt d’Orléans (340 km²) – Centre
  • Forest of Fontainebleau (250 km²) – Île-de-France
  • Forest of Rambouillet (220 km²) – Île-de-France
  • Forêt de la Montagne de Reims (190 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
  • Forêt d’Iraty (173 km²) – Aquitane
  • Forêt d’Othe (155 km²)- Champagne-Ardenne
  • Forêt du Mont-Aigoual (150 km²) – Languedoc-Roussillon
  • Forêt de Compiègne (145 km²) – Picardy
  • Forêt de Haguenau (137 km²) – Alsace
  • Forêt de la Hardt (or de la Harth) (130 km²) – Alsace
  • Forêt d’Orient (130 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
  • Forêt de Retz (130 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
  • Forest of Chaux (130 km²) – Franche-Comté
  • Forêt d’Arc-en-Barrois (100 km²) – Champagne-Ardenne
  • Forêt du Haut-Vallespir (100 km²) – Languedoc-Roussillon

The IFN produce a very clear guide to French forests that is free to download.  It includes various maps of forest cover, type and distribution, plus individual guides for the main forest species.

Chene d'Ecole, Belleme Forest

Chene d'Ecole, Belleme Forest, is over 300 years old and stands 40 metres tall

La gestion des forêts

Forest management in France is typically of a very high standard; in both public and private hands.  Having retained a high forest cover, the French have kept intact a close relationship with their forests, or a strong ‘wood culture’.  This is typified in broadleaved forests where trees are managed on 200 year cycles to produce some of the finest oak in the world, such as at Bellême in the Orne department. Here the fantastically tall and straight tall oaks are retained until they produce a good crop of seeds (mast).  Then, and only then, they are felled.  A year later the open ground is carpeted with a tiny forest of naturally regenerated oak seedlings, which are then nursed progressively to produce the next generation of oak standards.

Les arbres en France

France, like the UK, has many wonderful ancient or veteran trees.  The oldest tree in France is reputed to be a hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) dating from the 3rd Century at Saint Mars-sur-la-Futaie.  If you have an interest in ancient trees this excellent Veteran trees in France blog is highly recommended.

In some areas of France, especially for example in Normandy, trees and hedgerows form a unique patchwork landscape with pasture: the Bocage.  The landscape is similar to that found in parts of the English counties of Cornwall and Devon.

It would be impossible to write about France and trees without mentioning the tree-lined avenues that line canals, rivers and roads.  These are iconic for many visitors to France, probably more so than for residents.  Most people love them but for some, they represent a health and safety nightmare and are thought to be claustrophobic.  I am most definitely a fan though.

And finally …

For a Francophile writing about France I can’t sign off without mentioning the French term for charcoal, le charbon de bois: this is one of the most beautiful and poetic-sounding French terms.

Gabriel Hemery

Coppice lazarus

May 30, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

Ancient ash coppice stool
Ancient ash coppice stool

Ancient ash coppice stool

I featured this ancient ash coppice stool in January.

It had been coppiced to regenerate new growth; a cycle of management that this tree may have been through perhaps a half a dozen times in its life.  It attracted my interest because on one of the freshly cut faces of the stump, a member of the public had written with a marker pen:

“This was one our best loved trees.  We are sad that you have cut it down” Read more …

I returned to the coppice stool last week, to search for the new growth that I had predicted so confidently in my defense of woodland management.

I was pleased, and secretly relieved, to discover its restoration to life: several tiny sprouts were emerging from the gnarled and hollow coppice stool.  See the photo below.  Let’s pray that the deer allow these shoots to grow.

Ancient ash coppice stool regenerates

Gabriel Hemery

Read more about the story of this ancient ash coppice stool

Being positive about street trees

April 20, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

street tree slaughteredTrees in our streets improve air quality, provide beneficial micro-climate, enhance property values and aesthetics, attenuate storm water, conserve energy, reduce noise pollution, provide wildlife habitat, and have a positive effect on physical and mental human health.

There’s no denying that trees can cause problems in the built environment. Their roots can disturb pavements, roads or underground services, they can be too close to buildings undermining foundations or blocking sunlight and views.  Fallen trees or limbs in storm events can block roads and railway lines, they sometimes damage property and do sometimes kill people.  Perhaps it’s no wonder that trees are increasingly seen as a liability.

Street trees should be managed for their benefits however, as well as for risk and hazard.  I’m often horrified at the sight of a street tree, stripped of its limbs and decency – all in the interests of health and safety.  There is a cultural obsession in our towns and cities in trying to remove as much risk as possible but this can be detrimental to tree health.   This is important because poor health is linked to tree stress and in turn its susceptibility to tree pathogens; and we know that threats from tree pests and diseases are ever-increasing.  Furthermore, a decline in tree health will more likely lead to a tree that it is prone to shedding limbs or uprooting: over-pruning a tree is likely to be worse than not pruning at all.

The larger the tree, the greater the benefits.  We need more large trees in our streets, and for these to be lightly maintained for both their and our benefit.  Urban foresters and town planners will need to challenge perceived wisdom in tree management, as we aim to make our towns and cities fit for the 21st Century.   Ultimately, we need to start looking at the entire street tree resource in any town or city as an Urban Forest, and plan to deliver all the benefits listed above.

England’s wall of moribund woodland

April 18, 2011

Gabriel Hemery

England's wall of moribund woodlands

England's wall of moribund woodlands

I wrote recently that Britain is one of the least-wooded countries in Europe (read more) with just 12% woodland cover, while England has even less at 9%.  It is not well-known that the majority of woodlands in England are potentially moribund.

Of the 914,000 hectares of privately-owned woodland in England 265,000 hectares receives Forestry Commission-approved management grants. This leaves 649,000 hectares, or 71% of private woodland without an approved management plan[1].  This is currently the best available estimate of under-managed woodlands although it is important to note that the lack of an approved Forestry Commission plan does not necessarily equate to an unmanaged status.

However, it provides a worrying insight to the big picture regarding the state of forests in the UK.  In essence there is a relatively low amount of woodland cover in Britain and much of it could be in poor condition.  This is why 13 leading environmental organisations recently called for more woodland management, to halt the decline in woodland biodiversity (see Wildlife Link statement).  This lack of management also undermines attempts to create a woodland resource that is economically and environmentally resilient.  This is the core of the work of the Sylva Foundation (my day job).

649,000 hectares – how much is that exactly? For a start, it equals 5% of the entire land area of England.  Or to put it another way, if these woodlands were lined up together it is equivalent to a wall of woodland over 5 miles wide stretching 450 miles and the length of England: from Truro in Cornwall, to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north-east.

In case the maths is of interest, here goes:

  • There are 100 hectares in one km2, so: 649,000 ha / 100 = 6,490 km2
  • Truro to Newcastle is 724 km, so: 6,490 km2 / 724 km long = 8.96 km wide
  • … or in miles: 450 miles long by 5.57 miles wide

Gabriel Hemery

[1] Pers. Comm. Head of Woodland Surveys, Forestry Commission. National Inventory of Woodlands and Trees – England.

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