DEAR Editor,
Your lead article in the May 2019 issue of Forestry Journal asked where the general public get their ideas about forestry (especially UK woodlands and UK forestry). 

I think we can be fairly certain that it is not from Confor, nor the RFS, nor the Forestry Commission, nor the ICF, nor the TTF, and not the BBC Radio programme Farming Today.

What could help change perceptions? A high-profile industry champion like Sir David Attenborough, perhaps (see the BBC Blue Planet programme and what has been achieved in the debate about plastic). Indeed, the whole debate about how we work with our planet has changed.

Climate change is now top of the environmental agenda and forestry has a massive contribution to make. The result of Brexit could also substantially change the way the farming industry is organised and funded.

But there are huge misconceptions to overcome: that broadleaves, particularly when viewed with an understorey of bluebells, are good, and impenetrable serried ranks of conifers are bad (unless it’s a spruce or fir tree at Christmas). That deer, squirrels and rabbits are lovely, fluffy creatures and the damage they do hurts no one. That UK forestry workers wear woolly hats and cook their food over a campfire. That the future of forestry lies in horse logging (despite the fact that over 95% of UK wood is extracted by sophisticated and expensive machinery). The list goes on.

Within the UK, about 50% of UK forest cover is owned or managed by the Forestry Commission, yet they rarely speak up for the industry. Independent reports which extol the benefits of UK forestry are periodically published (remember the Reed Report and the one from the Bishop of Liverpool?) but nothing substantial ever happens to increase planting rates.

So what can be done?
1. We need an ongoing, funded, quantifiable campaign. A 100% upward step change.
2. We need to speak with an assertive, not reactive, voice.
3. We need to enlist a ‘champion’ like Sir David Attenborough.
4. We need information packs for schools and parish, community and other local councils giving a balanced view about the environment, global warming and the benefits of multi-use woodlands and forestry and the livelihoods they support.
5. We need to get constructive articles published in the consumer press, clearly setting out valid reasons for a change in people’s thinking and attitudes.
6. We need to change the format and ‘hippy dippy’ messages that are being given out about forestry, particularly by the BBC’s Countryfile programme and the like. Viewers would be far better served by a brand-new programme about climate change and rural UK land use, particularly including forestry and farming, recreation, wildlife, flooding and water management, together with all of the associated rural employment opportunities.

Most important, we need to see real action, starting now. It cannot be left in the hands of politicians, who, in practical terms, have done next to nothing for the past 30 years or so.

Andy Chalmers, Managing Director, 
Melcourt Industries Ltd, Tetbury, Gloucestershire GL8 8RT