One Size Does Not Fit All


in Expert Articles, Opinion

What is fundamentally wrong with ALL centralised policy, proposals and guidelines with regards land management (including planning, forestry, landscape issues, biodiversity etc.,) in the UK?

The answer is it doesn’t fit – it can’t fit because the amount of factors needed to be considered would require reference material equal to a large library and where most of the published research is yet to be carried out. Therefore before ‘Biodiversity offsetting’, the NPPF, the UKNEA, the UKFS (The UK Forestry Standard) and forthcoming ‘recommendations’ from the Forestry Panel, are absorbed into ‘on the ground’ management, should there not be an over riding ‘disclaimer’ to compliment the huge diversity of forest and landscape types in the UK?

Surely a disclaimer is vitally important in order to avoid the further disenfranchisement of the land industry practitioner – the Forester, Gardener, Landscaper, Arboriculturalist, Landscape Architect, etc. Because without the skills and knowledge needed to discern good management within any given location in the UK by way of a practitioner who lives and works in that location, sustainable forest and land management is doomed to fail.

Taking the UKFS in its newest and seemingly most complex form {$FILE/FCFC001.pdf } it is an impressive document, with referral to all directives, existing guidelines and incorporating a ‘colour & symbol’ coded check list of needs for ensuring ‘Sustainable Forest Management’. Including a clear concise definition of sustainable it quite rightly puts the draft NPPF that actually completed its consultation period to shame.

However the ‘Objectives’, ‘Principles’, ‘Implementation’ and ‘Commitment’ of the UK Forestry Accord 1996, (launched under the Chairmanship of the Institute of Chartered Foresters, and the result of negotiations between the members of the Wildlife & Countryside Link and those of the Forestry Industry Council of Great Britain, amongst many other organisations), has disappeared as an appendix to the UKFS.

Thus the text ‘Forestry in the UK covers a very diverse range of forest types, from young plantations to ancient semi-natural woodlands, reflecting a wide variety of management objectives and local considerations. This complexity of forest types and changing circumstances means that there can be no unique solution to specific issues’ disappears. In the new UKFS as part of a ‘Forest Management Plan’ a survey is desired; ‘a comprehensive exercise to collect and map all the information about the site and its location, including any statutory constraints.’ Is this the same as an over arching statement recognising the diversity and complexity of our forests and our landscapes? No.

Although a digression, it should also be noted that the loss of the UK Forestry Accord appendix means that the statement ‘The public should be widely involved in and consulted on forestry matters’, is replaced by  Consideration should be given to involving people in the development of forestry proposals who have a recognisable interest in the proposal or its outcomes.’

‘‘Planning is not Brain Surgery’’ stated Andrew Stunnell, Communities Minister, well no it isn’t, it’s planning, a different profession which replaces the need to understand patient symptoms with the need to understand all social, environmental and economic needs in any given place.

“In some parts of inner London, each tree is calculated to be worth as much as £78,000 in terms of its benefits. I might make the tree surgeons in Smith Square prune with a little more sensitivity next time!” stated the Rt Hon Caroline Spelman. It was the work of arborists that had ensured that value.

Insulting practitioners’ professionalism accelerates their disenfranchisement and ultimately risks all elements in our rural and urban landscapes of worth, devaluing their only recently discovered benefits to us as humans and replacing traditional elements of our landscape with non sustainable, mass produced constructions to maintain the intricate balance between nature and human needs which changes every linear mile from Margate to Lands End.

To further localism and sustainability; local landscapes must be managed by local practitioners, being aided by local policies, produced by locals and based on local environmental, economic, cultural and social factors, not those of an economically successful case study from another continent.

by Pip Howard


Pip is an expert in soil, with a history in broadleaved silviculture linked to farming issues.  He now specialises in site specific planting requirements, including; phytoremediation, urban silviculture and difficult planting sites.

Pips’ blog: European

Read more articles on SOW from Pip: Pip Howard


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M Gear November 22, 2011 at 14:38

Interesting and very true. I wonder about the effectiveness of ecosystem services without reference to the availability of knowledge to conserve a habitat within a landscape and in reference to Landscape Character Assessment (LCA’s) also. To calculate any kind of evaluation of a place, including one ear-marked for habitat creation schemes, then it must include a calculable system of valuing the professional (and amateur) human elements to maintain the selected ecosystem. Climate change is the big factor here as we no longer have the time that evolving natural heritage has given humans throughout previous centuries in determining a solution which benefits all and which we largely ignored in the mistaken belief that it was enduring. We cannot afford the loss of, or ignore, local knowledge.

Pip Howard November 22, 2011 at 16:54

In regards tree valuation, of the 4 methods (CTLA, CAVAT, Helliwell & itrees) all can be said to recognise the value is linked directly to the practitioner, not least because it is only a practitioner who can perform the valuation. Each valuation system is useful for a specific purpose, but the attributes of each system can be subject to abuse outside the industry particularly when entering the legal system but generally works well as it is based on the practitioners judgement.

itrees is probably the most closely linked to ecosystem services, but it is an American system and this is an important point linked to what you say M Gear, because it ignores a cultural value that the others can allow for through the practitioner. There is a huge difference in cultural aspects of trees and woodlands in the US, Canada, Australia and other anglo speaking – new world countries (which have histories largely of indigenous people who clearly had a much stronger connection to the natural world than our predecessors in Europe), wilderness remains and thus outside of an urban setting the values are uncomparable.

In the UK the rural practitioner is indeed vital in determining true values, but I do not know if any formula in this regard was included in the UKNEA findings.

Roderick Leslie November 23, 2011 at 17:25

No, planning isn’t brain surgery. Brain surgery is stunningly complex and delicate and always developing but I suspect follows some quite distinct procedures. Planning every forest is different and ultimately as much an art as a science: computer programmes can assemble information and provide very clear spatial leads but it is establishing the rationale for a forest from all the conflicting evidence and turning that into a plan which is the ultimate skill – and it is a skill without limits because as some practioners struggle to paint a decent teashop watercolour others are aspiring to Van Goghian standards – the difference being they are making the real landscape that others then paint.

The ICF submission to the Independent Panle sums it up quite simply:

‘Our concern is that the skills that go into the planning of our multi-purpose forests are rarely recognised: it is both the greatest compliment and frustration when a skilfully planned forest is seen by people as ‘natural’ , unaware of the huge effort that has made it so attractive. Surprisingly, many of the lay people who live in or around our forests are now more knowledgeable about how forests are managed than sectoral ‘experts’. There is an urgent need for foresters to share their skills more widely. ‘

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