We are incredibly lucky to be able to share with you a correspondence from leading ecological botanist, Dr Oliver Rackham, OBE.
SOW are relieved (and no doubt many others will be) to hear the insights of Dr Rackham. Particularly at this stage, when the independent panel is about to be announced and the debate on what is best for our Public Forest Estate enters into the next stage – greater depth and exploration of the facts by leading experts.
I have contributed very little to this debate, largely because it never got so far as detailed proposals that I could agree or disagree with. I spent much of my professional life denouncing the Forestry Commission as destroyer of woodland. Then in the 1990s they reformed and I have generally agreed with them.
What happened? I suspect that DEFRA recently discovered – what I could have told them if they had asked me – that in the early 1990s there had been a round of disposals in which the FC had sold most of the land that it owned. What was left was mostly not its to sell, for instance being land held on long lease from private owners. The supposed conflict of interest was resolved in 1996 by the separation of Forest Authority from Forest Enterprise; although that separation has somewhat faded since, it could be revived at a stroke of the pen without controversy. The ensuing 15 years were enough for these changes to be forgotten, especially as DEFRA was a new ministry without corporate memory. Hence the proposals collapsed into farce as soon as they began to do their research. You can no doubt imagine a script on the lines of Yes, Prime Minister!
So, the problem has apparently gone away until another 15 years brings amnesia. However, the FC has acquired a huge amount of public goodwill, which may or may not be deserved. The time has come to take advantage of this and consider the future of public forestry in the light of new objectives (especially woodland conservation) and new threats (especially globalization of tree diseases).
How can public forestry in Britain get the stability which it has enjoyed in other countries, such as France, but which has been so lacking in its brief history in this country?
Dr Oliver Rackham, OBE
Is an acknowledged authority on trees, woodlands and wood pasture and was elected Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge for the year of 2008.
Among many, many academic achievements, Dr Rackham is Honorary Professor of Historical Ecology in the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge and was awarded the OBE for services to Nature Conservation in 1998.
He has written many influential books, among which is the definitive study of our British landscape: ‘History of the Countryside‘ and the definitive study of our woodlands: ‘Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape; the complete history of Britain’s trees, woods and hedgerows‘.