The Forest Diary: reflections on my time as deputy surveyor
by Forestry Commission Deputy Surveyor for South England, Mike Seddon
After eleven years of working as Deputy Surveyor for the Forestry Commission in the South of England, I’ll soon be moving on to a new role as Director of Operations for England. A lot has changed over the last decade, and it seems a good time to reflect on a side of the Forestry Commission that, day to day, many local people may not be familiar with.
We’re lucky enough in Southern England to enjoy some really spectacular woodlands – from the New Forest to Moors Valley Country Park, we have five per cent more woodland coverage than the national average and are home to forty per cent of England’s ancient woodland. But whilst many of us enjoy spending time in our local forests, whether it’s walking, cycling or spotting wildlife, few of us realise the depth of strategy and planning that goes into protecting, expanding, and safeguarding them for future generations.
Each woodland that forms part of the Public Forest Estate (PFE) has a Forest Design and Management Plan attached to it – in brief, a document that sets out the shape and nature of that woodland over the next 50 to 100 years. We really do plan that far ahead!
As deputy surveyor for the region, I’ve been directly involved in developing and reviewing these plans, working closely with organisations such as the National Park Authorities for the New Forest and South Downs, the Wildlife Trusts, sawmills, and tourism associations. With 46,000 hectares and seven local authority areas making up the Public Forest Estate in our region, there’s a lot to consider.
Deliberate choices about tree planting or regeneration help to manage the delicate balance between different broadleaf, and conifer species, and protect our woodlands against pests, diseases and climate change. Similar deliberate choices to remove trees to restore heathland ensure that wonderful local wildlife such as Nightjar and Dartford warbler can continue to flourish. And then of course there’s our investment strategies – how should money best be spent, and what leisure and recreation facilities are most needed?
It’s a delicate balance to manage the social, environmental and economic demands on our woodlands, and it’s critical that this is achieved, not just in partnership with local stakeholders, but by really engaging with local communities. What’s important to local people is what’s important to us. It’s all about protecting and improving our woodlands and associated habitats, and celebrating them. You can get directly involved in this by joining our ever growing network of volunteers or by commenting as we renew our plans.
Since I started my role in April 2003, so much has been achieved locally. By thinning out conifers, we’ve been able to restore large areas of ancient woodland, and heathland for people to enjoy and wildlife to flourish. The wood economy has grown substantially, now contributing over £1billion to the local economy, and there’s been a real growth in third party leisure businesses operating on the estate – from the icecreams you buy at Moors Valley, to fees for camping in the New Forest, your money goes back into caring for the woodlands.
Our Forest Design Plans are critical in helping us deliver the right mix of benefits for people, nature and the economy, including generating income from the Public Forest Estate – something that is increasingly important in safeguarding its long-term future. So next time you visit your much loved local woodland, remember that behind the scenes, there’s a very diverse enterprise at work.