On 20th September we welcomed three speakers to 37 Fleet Street for our in-person discussion, Regenerative Forestry. Our expert panel comprised Helen Browning OBE, DL, an organic farmer and chief executive of the Soil Association (SA); Clive Thomas, senior advisor on forestry at the SA; and Nick Hoare, owner of the Stourhead (Western) Estate. Together, they explored the current and future landscape of UK forestry.
In recent years, the SA has applied many lessons learned in the development of organic farming to reimagining the forestry sector. UK forestry is beset with problems stemming from short-term planning. In the first place, we learned, “there is not enough woodland cover in the UK – 13% versus 40% across the EU – and much of what we have is not well managed.”
Present threats to our forests include disease and dieback, wildfires, nitrogen oversupply, and damage caused by deer and grey squirrels. While debate rages over self-sufficiency in farming, there is scant public awareness of the challenges and opportunities of progressive forestry. ‘Getting farmers more confident about the management and profitability of trees is crucial,’ said Helen.
Clive took us through the findings of the SA’s recent report, Regenerative Forestry, which lays out a plan for the UK with an emphasis on climate, nature and people-friendly management. Our final speaker, Nick Hoare, shared the principles put into practice over three generations at Stourhead (Western) Estate, where productive conifer forestry provides habitat for a huge range of wildlife. The estate’s use of ‘continuous cover’ forestry management techniques combines many different species and varying ages of trees. This approach balances slightly higher management costs with efficient maximisation of free resources – namely sunlight and self-seeding trees. The carbon in the soil stays locked up, as bare ground is never fully exposed.
For Nick and his fellow panellists, the estate’s dual purpose as “timber factory and wildlife reserve” is an effective model for the future, a blueprint for the kind of regenerative forestry that will pay dividends, economically and ecologically, for generations to come.