Skip to main content

Forestry and Farming: Challenging perceptions (with a competition winning essay)

Confor (a 'membership organisation for sustainable woodland and forestry businesses') run a competition, #TheFutureIsForestry, that gives a voice to students and young/early career foresters. Through an essay or video submission they respond to a key question associated with forestry.

The question this year was about how to motivate farmers to plant more trees.


If there was one area in which I felt I had something to say....

As a member of the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research I was definitely placed to enter. My PhD explores the impact of perceptions, preferences and situated expertise on tree planting designs with a focus on tree planting for integrated catchment water/flood managment (a Nature based solution or natural flood management). Now this isn't the primary focus of most 'commercial' forestry, but it is certainly something that falls within their remit. With a move towards ecosystem services this is likely to become an economically valued aspect. The current or percieved difference between 'commercial' forestry and 'woodland management' is one of the aspects I tackled in the essay. 
Tree planting for land/water management can be implemented by a wide range of stakeholders and does include a wide range of stakeholders, particularly farmers and other land managers. 
That means my research is not only forestry related (and to be honest, trees were my primary interest in the project) but that I have also conducted research with landowners / farmers that directly related to this question.

I couldn't really not respond...

And I pretty much started by arguing that farming might not be the first industry that needed a change of  approach...
Now the traditional perception of forestry might be that this wouldn't go down well. But challenging perceptions was what the essay really was about..

Even so I was pretty surprised when the essay was shortlisted.
I was very surprised when it won.

It says less about my essay craft and more, I think, about the approach of the forestry industry, how it is taking on challenges and adapting at an astonishing pace to a world that is changing, socially, environmentally, fundamentally.

Confor are publishing the essay online, so when that's up I'll link to it here, but there are a couple of key points to note:

  • This was a 1500 word essay, so a lot of the problems are only briefly touched on and summarised
  • This is research I am currently conducting, it's in a place of flux and land management is very very complex. 
  • By saying that farmers want to plant trees I am not saying that all farmers want to hand over their farms to foresters for full conifer plantation (and when you visualise that, remember that your perception of what a conifer plantation is is affected by some bad history, some media and some justified concerns.)
  • This was for the purposes of 'forestry' so tackling the possibility of 'working' woodlands. And not the many many aspects of treescapes that might be for entirely non-commercial purposes, or the sorts of approaches like rewilding etc.

I'm super excited by this, and it's a real impetus to write more about the woodland/trees aspect of what I'm working on. I'll link the essay here when it's been published, and carry on writing as I work..
I a world of change we need some things to focus on.