In England there has been nothing like the project at Doddington Moor in 30 years. In Scotland, forestry is a bigger industry relatively speaking, so there is political support. The Scottish government have also made a commitment to being carbon-neutral by 2050. The policy is to become self-sufficient in building materials, and they are looking at biomass power plants. In England they’ve said: “We’ll build a nuclear power station and that’ll be one big hit that resolves all our problems, right?” North of the border conifers are accepted as part of the landscape and the economic benefit is recognised, whereas in England there are well-funded, loud pressure groups that see conifers as the devil incarnate. They believe we must have nice trees, we can’t have productive trees.
Our purpose is to produce what we call productive woodland. When you build a house, your roof beams, furniture, fence posts – all of that stuff – gets made from conifer trees. Then we’re putting in a substantial amount of broadleaf, but we’ve chosen species that we believe will also enable them to become productive. A tree grows by reaching for light so if you’ve got competition these trees will go for it and grow quicker.
Mother Nature doesn’t work to civil service procedures
Proving that planting trees is not a bad thing
The general position of government agencies in England is that planting a tree is the last option for a piece of land. Often there’s then a habitat issue: is there some flora, fauna or ecology of higher priority than a tree? That must be protected, so the process of planting trees in England has been a monumental nightmare. As a result landowners have just thought: “You know what, I’ve got better things to do with my life”.
At DEFRA [Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs] meetings, I’m sat in a room with civil servants from across various agencies, all of whom are sat there to listen to the proposals – well, they didn’t listen – to give their opinion on the proposals, whether they’ve read them or not.
One of the positions was that the site should be covered in ground-nesting birds. It was 15 years ago, but there haven’t been any gamekeepers on the site for a decade because there has been no shooting on the site. They insisted livestock was reduced so grass has risen up. There is invasive bracken and rhododendron so any livestock we do put in would be poisoned. There are fox hunting bans so we’ve got loads of foxes on the site that eat any ground-nesting birds that do come, so there are none left. “Ah yes, but it’s a prime ground-nesting bird site,” they’d say. You go round and round in circles. Mother Nature doesn’t work to civil service procedures. We can’t undo all these things that have happened. Nobody wants to bring back fox hunting, so at one point I said, “Listen, the only way we can achieve that is by napalming the entire place and getting rid of what shouldn’t be there in your opinion. However, if we do napalm it there’s no way we can restore it to what you think it should be so we’re back to square one.”
A forest can and should be permanent
Can’t see the woods for the trees
You may have a romantic notion about planting a tree that will live forever, but it’s the forest which is permanent, not the tree. A tree has a life – it stops growing, stops absorbing carbon, and ultimately dies. That lifespan might be 50-75 years for a conifer, hundreds of years for an oak with other species somewhere in between. Trees have a lifespan and if you don’t do something with them then you kill the forest. But a forest can and should be permanent. It’s been a huge battle to get this one approved but hopefully we have broken the mould.