Voices of Forestry presents analysis and insight from people working all across the forestry sector. This issue, Toby Allen of Say It With Wood reflects on issues raised at the APF, asks what the sector’s priorities should be and considers how they could be positively addressed in the year ahead.

DID you enjoy the APF? 

I did, and while I was there it was suggested I write something here. Since then, I’ve been struggling with what the message should be. Before the show I would have had a whinge, ranting like a Dalek stuck on the stairs.

However, after spending a few days watching people from all parts of the industry interact, I’ve been reminded of what a great job forestry is.

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When we are given the opportunity, forestry works well; we manage to grow, cut and sell wood of most types in most situations. Pretty much every niche is occupied. Owners and managers grow and prepare trees for market, contractors do the practical work to bring timber out the woods and processors turn it into stuff to sell to the public, which generates the money to keep the cycle going.

On top of this are the machinery dealers, mechanics, consultants, agents, lobbyists and all the rest of the support network that keeps the clock ticking. It’s a good trade. But, when it doesn’t work well, when people don’t play by the rules, or get greedy, lazy or take advantage of others in the chain, things get hard. And that’s a problem. It’s a problem because now, more than ever before, forestry has an important part to play in the next stage of human development (yes, I really do mean that). 

People and trees have been together since we first climbed them to escape predators, then folded branches in, orangutan-style, to make nests. It’s thought we began to walk upright to aid movement through trees (again, watch an orangutan). Later, we hardened sticks over the fire to dig up roots from the savannah, and used wooden shafts with stone tips as arrows and spears. Charcoal, made from wood, enabled us to manufacture metal into increasingly intricate tools. Wood kept us warm and built our houses. Then we discovered the stored power in black fossils and trees became less important to humans.

But the days of digging oil and coal are coming to an end, leaving a legacy of a changing climate and an urgent need for society to make friends with wood and trees again. That is why forestry is so important.

It’s too important for us to be losing members of our community to other industries because of pay and conditions. It’s too important for contractors to be working at unsustainable rates because they think the job won’t run otherwise. UK timber is a precious thing and should be marketed creatively at a premium. To replace plastic, concrete and steel we need to grow good-quality, valuable trees and have a supply chain to match.

Forestry is too important to have a safety organisation that can’t engage (or even listen to) the people it is being paid to protect. It’s too important not to harness the intellectual property held by the guys with the twisted backs we see shuffling round the show. We stand on the shoulders of the financial and physical risks they have taken with the techniques and machinery that make up modern forestry. It’s great to see schemes bringing in new graduates, but we also need better opportunities for progression from forest floor to management. Our veterans know how to get trees to the gate, and intimately understand the risks involved.

The need for an effective workforce to grow, cut and sell wood is too important to have an industry made up of mostly white blokes – less than half the population of the UK. Hearing first-hand stories of frankly embarrassing misogyny and sexual harassment which belongs in the ’70s does not give the impression of a dynamic industry poised to tackle climate change in 2023 and beyond. The positive benefits of forestry are far too important to have a public that still doesn’t understand why trees are cut down. Bringing the public on board might be difficult, but it is crucial. There’s an array of organisations asking for our yearly subs which do a better job of communicating inwards than having awkward conversations outside forestry.

The public should cheer when they see a harvester – not bitch on Facebook.

Forestry Journal:

Most of all, forestry is far too important for us all not to stand as equals, with mutual respect and receiving a fair slice of the pie. Most of the current issues in forestry are symptoms of a lack of strong leadership, with a clear vision and strategy. There’s some very well-paid folk who really must try harder.
So that’s the pantomime over. The above are opinions gathered from people I chatted to at the APF. I’ll leave it for you to decide who the heroes and villains are. 

That’s why coming together is so important. In a trade where we spend so much time alone, it’s easy to forget we’re a part of something bigger.

Have a great Christmas!

DISCLAIMER: Our columns are a platform for writers to express their personal opinions. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers’ own organisations or Forestry Journal.