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The Earth needs its forests more than ever as climate change bites, but foresters must heed the needs of society if we are to realise their benefits, Britain’s top forester warned today.
Tim Rollinson, Director-General of the British Forestry Commission and Chairman of the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, was delivering the prestigious annual Forestry Lecture in Sustainability at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
He said the pressure on the Earth’s resources, including land, were going to be immense as the world’s population grew to a forecast eight billion by 2025. At the same time, the continuing drift of people to towns and cities meant they were losing their contact with forests and their understanding of how crucial they are to life on Earth.
“The world needs permanent, sustainable forests to lock up carbon, to conserve soil and water, to oxygenate the atmosphere, to provide timber, food, medicines and other products and services, to preserve and protect biodiversity and wildlife, and to provide places where people can go to refresh body, mind and soul,” Mr Rollinson said.
He said that to provide all these services foresters need to be able to conserve, harvest and manage forests sustainably, and restore the forests that have been lost. To do this they need a ‘licence’ to do so from the societies they serve, and this licence needs to be earned.
“Forest cover in many parts of the world continues to fall as forests are destroyed to make way for other land uses, and we urgently need to halt this deforestation,” Mr Rollinson said. However, “with the increasing shift of populations to living in cities, we are witnessing a greater ‘disconnect’ between people and forests.”
Mr Rollinson illustrated his point by tracing the history of forests in Britain, where forests covered most of the land several thousand years ago, but declined to only about 5 per cent of it 100 years ago. British people lost their forest culture and had to relearn it as successive Governments pushed through a vigorous programme of reforestation after the First World War, initially to provide a strategic reserve of timber. Forests and woodland now cover about 12 per cent of the UK land area.
Mistakes were made along the way, and 50 years ago, when timber production reigned as the supreme purpose of forest management, “the forester was in charge of the forest”, he said. However, as the new forests expanded and mistakes were made in the reforestation process, society began to demand new services from forests, different ways of doing things, and a voice in where they are put and how they are managed.
“Today, we have to listen to the needs of a very wide range of stakeholders, and be fully tuned into the perceptions and concerns of the society we serve,” Mr Rollinson said.
“To maintain our ‘licence to operate’ we have to engage with people in new ways – not only to explain to them what we have to offer, but to hear from them about their expectations and needs.
“It is no good knowing you are right if society’s perception is that what you are doing is wrong. Foresters in the UK have learned this lesson the hard way – to look outwards from the forest sector, and to engage in new ways with a predominantly urban population. We have had to give up a lot of traditional ‘sovereignty’, but perhaps we have become more powerful as a result.
“The messages from forest restoration programmes around the world are clear: forests can be replaced to restore the environmental, economic and social functions they originally provided, and this can be done relatively quickly and economically.
“However, the involvement of local people lies at the heart of almost every example of successful forest restoration and sustainable management around the world.
“Without their input and their support, we will fail.”
NOTES TO EDITOR:
- Forestry is one of the biggest land uses and industries in British Columbia. Approximately 48 million hectares, or 62 per cent of the land area, is forested. The timber harvest over the past 10 years has averaged 77 million cubic metres a year (compared to the UK's less than 10 milion). Further information about the University of British Columbia’s annual Forestry Lecture in Sustainability is available from www.forestry.ubc.ca.
- The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible for advising on and implementing forestry policy in Great Britain. It is a cross-border public authority responsible separately to Ministers in England, Scotland and Wales, and collectively on GB matters. It manages approximately 1 million hectares of public forest land, provides advice to Ministers, offers grants for expanding, regenerating and managing forests, regulates tree felling, sets standards for good forestry practice, and works to protect Britain’s forests from pests and diseases. Its Forest Research arm conducts world-class scientific research and technical development relevant to forestry. For further information visit www.forestry.gov.uk and www.forestresearch.gov.uk.
- The Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration brings together a range of organisations from the public, private and voluntary sectors around the world to work together to encourage and facilitate the restoration of forest landscapes. For further information visit www.ideastransformlandscapes.org.
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