There’s more to woods than trees. We’re experts in all that woods have to offer. Our work means timber for industry and biofuels, habitats for wildlife and plants, space to play, exercise or learn – and jobs in some of the most remote parts of the country. That is why our role is so important – because of the sheer breadth of what we do.
Below is just a taster of some of the varied work we do, and that you too could be involved with.
When District Forester Mike Taylor looked at the area around High Lodge in Thetford Forest, he didn’t see trees, he saw an amazing concert venue. And he made the vision happen. More than 1 million people nationally have come into the woods over the past 12 years to hear everything from the classics to Jessie J as part of Forest Live. And it’s helped open people’s eyes to how forests can offer something special to them.
"I‘ve got a strong personal interest in music – I go to a lot of concerts. I was just looking at the High Lodge site and thought what a great venue for a concert. So we decided to give it a go. The first one was in 1996. The fantastic part of it was the way everyone really pulled together to make it work. People got a real buzz out of it. The first rock concert was Jools Holland and that sold out to capacity - 3,000 people. We could see that this was a good working model, we could roll this out everywhere.
"It wasn’t always easy – we weren’t exactly known in the music industry. We work now with a production company that has the right links, but it’s still owned by the Forestry Commission, we have our own box office and it’s managed by us. "I think it says something important about us - we’re open-minded, we’re equipped to deal with new ideas and we can do things that are different to bring people in. And there’s that buzz that comes from the team effort and team spirit that goes into being part of something successful."
Renewable Energy schemes
Peter Clark is Area Land Agent in Cowal and Trossachs where he’s applying his skills and knowledge to handling the many land use issues involved in renewable energy schemes, including the Scottish Power wind farm at Cruach Mhor.
“There is always a large team of people involved in these schemes. Negotiations can take two or three years. We lease the land, but we also have to balance and juggle a lot of priorities. At Cruach Mhor, we created an open habitat area to encourage predators, like eagles, away from the area earmarked for the turbines so that had a place safe for hunting and nesting. We look at the access roads needed so that we don’t have to cut through standing timber. We look at the needs of the tenant farmer who has stock grazing under the turbines. And we look to the long term future – how the land will be reinstated if the wind farm ceases to operate.
‘We co-ordinate the players and rely on input from all over the Commission. The commercial companies we deal with are focused on their big project, but we’re looking at all kinds of different interests, which makes life that bit more complicated.”
Encouraging groups to use the woods
Sunny Singh’s mission is to get people to enjoy woods and that includes encouraging groups who traditionally don’t visit to see the benefits the forests can offer them. She is Social Development Adviser for the East of England Conservancy.
“The East of England has an ageing population and we know that if people keep healthy and active when they’re middle aged, it makes a real difference to their life expectancy.
“We’re working with Sport England and Age Concern to encourage the over 50s to make the most of the forests to keep themselves healthy and active. We let them know what kind of activities are available and that sport doesn’t have to mean going to a leisure centre of a gym, you can just go outside.
“We are also looking for ways to bring in other groups who don’t traditionally visit. Members of the Black and Ethnic Minority communities often feel reluctant to come to use their woods and forests. So we are working on a programme with the Tree Council and Luton Council of Faiths to create ‘faith spaces’ in Maulden Woods– areas of quiet and calm where faith groups can meet, meditate, hold talks or play music, but which are close to transport and facilities. “We work with a lot of different partners, particularly government agencies. What we bring is that we are very focused on delivery and making things happen.”
Peter Crow from Forest Research looks at woodlands from a completely different perspective. He’s using laser technology to find out not just what’s in the woods, but what’s under them, mapping the important archaeological features from an aircraft. Creating the maps will make the job of preserving important parts of our heritage easier in the future.
“It’s part of our role to look after the historical environment, but we have to be able to map what’s there. A lot of the features that we find are important to understanding the past for the local community. “We fly over the forest and fire a laser in rapid pulses which gets reflected back to the aircraft. We use that to create 3D models. The LiDAR is helping us survey areas that have never been looked at before. We work very closely with local authority archaeologists and it helps the people on the ground to manage important sites and prevent damage.”