Seeing the wood for the trees? Joanna Yarrow at the Royal Forestry Society Annual conference


This is post is written by Joanna Yarrow, Founding Director of Beyond Green

Last month I joined experts from across the forestry and woodlands industry at a conference organised by the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) and the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE) to look at new ways of valuing the UK’s woodlands and forests.

I’m a relative newcomer to the world of forestry (as a child growing up in a wood I made the most of the outdoor life but studiously avoided anything to do with the technicalities of trees…) and felt particularly out of place as the only person in the room not wearing tweed. There were plenty of in-depth expositions about how to best to calculate the price of a tree. Not much consensus, but some nice scene-setting from Natural Capitalism: “while there may be no ‘right’ way to value a forest, a river or a child, the wrong way is to give it no value at all”.

As perhaps some lighter relief amidst the learned arboriculture, I talked about what we’re up to at Beyond Green’s sister organisation Wilderness Wood in East Sussex. In contrast to the vast tracts of land available to many of the landowners present, we’ve got just 62 acres where we juggle the many challenges of combining award-winning productive forestry with the highs and lows of inspiring and engaging visitors in sustainable living.

When my parents applied for planning permission to build a home in the wood 30 years ago the planning authority questioned the feasibility of two people earning a living wage from managing just 62 acres of woodland. Whilst there’s certainly been no gold-rush in the UK’s forestry industry, 3 decades on we employ 12+ full time equivalent staff plus a number of seasonal contractors. The key is diversity – we juggle a combination of woodland management, production of firewood, poles & fencing, furniture and garden products with education, family activities & events, courses, delicious local seasonal food & drink and more. All under a guiding ethos of balancing ecological, social and economic performance.

In recognition of its approach to forestry and the diversity of its activities, in 2010 the wood won the RFS Excellence in Forestry Award. Last year the BBC Politics Show visited. They wanted to use us as a case study showing how the ‘private sector’ could be a positive force in running woodlands (so therefore no need to worry about that sell-off of national forests everyone was squeaking about). In my interview on the show I pointed out that unless there’s a large and untapped mass of values-driven committed plate-spinners out there just desperate to run woodlands in the way we do it’s very unlikely that market forces alone would result in Wilderness Woods springing up across the country! (But if you are one of those types do please get in touch…!)

So when the good tweedy folk of the RFS beamingly said how nice it was to see us having such fun in the wood I had to point out that if any of them was contemplating doing something similar they should be prepared to feel like this at the end of every day:

One last thought: if forests are as important to the whole nation as last year’s uprising against the government’s proposals to sell of national forests suggested, it would be great if the RFS could attract a slightly more diverse audience:

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