I AM writing in response to the article by Christopher Rhodes (‘Is tree planting now a mug’s game?’) that you published in the April 2022 issue, and to challenge the assertion that contractors are not passing improved rates on to their planters. 

While I don’t dispute the data collected from Forestry England’s North & Yorkshire district and NRW, it is quite a small sample size and not reflective of the whole. The percentage increase over the period may be reasonably high, but in reality it is only a couple of pence per tree. Over the same period that increase will be negated by the rise in costs to contractors – fuel, insurance, purchasing kit – and on top of that those costs have spiralled in recent months. It’s not that contractors aren’t passing on an increase – it simply isn’t there. I have spoken to a few contractors about this issue. One told me he has had no increase in prices for 10 years except periodic RPI increases of 0.6, 0.25 and 0.75 per cent. Two others told me they are no longer going to be planting as they can’t make it pay and will be focusing on other parts of their businesses. The fact is, the industry is losing contractors; hardly an indicator of profiteering.

Forestry Journal:

Mr Rhodes emailed us in March 2021 in regards to this matter. We responded but then heard nothing back. Had he bothered to engage with us we could have told him his suspicions are unfounded and any suppression of rates to sub-contractors is more likely down to other factors. In his article he says that of all the organisations he approached only FE and NRW provided him with any data. Maybe it’s worth asking why that would be? I do agree with him that FLS using data protection as an excuse not to release figures rings a few alarm bells. That alone should have raised his suspicions that the fault may not lie with contractors. If he would like to discuss this issue further, I would be more than happy to. 

READ MORE: No end in sight to UK's tree planting woes - Forestry's Latest News

Most establishment contractors are small businesses with low staff numbers working to razor-thin margins. They value their workforce highly (I certainly do) and do all they can to pay them fairly. I am not naïve. I know there may be the odd contractor out there who may well not be entirely honest with their workforce, but the suggestion all contractors are at it is very wide of the mark.

Nick Adams
English policy committee vice-chair, Forestry Contracting Association

He’s a grand fellow, Dr Terry Mabbett (‘Talking up tree-planting targets in acres? Give us a break!’, Forestry Journal 333) but please don’t let him stray beyond his brief. Give him a copy of Country Life to read on the train. There he’ll find 30 pages of properties he can buy all over Britain, from new mansions in the stockbroker belt to farms in Yorkshire, to forests in Scotland – all measured in ACRES! By his reckoning, we are all Neanderthals.

And don’t let him come anywhere near our sawmill. There he’d find one- and two-inch planks drying on the racks, Rachel on the saw cutting two 12-foots of 10 x 8, and guys in the yard talking about prices in hoppus feet.

John Blunt
Staunton Harold, Leicestershire

I don’t know whether it’s me getting old or the nature of modern mass media, but I am finding it increasingly difficult to keep my finger on what’s going on from new tree planting to beaver re-introductions, and even the realms of national politics. A prime example was all the quick-fire news reporting last month starting on ‘Mad May Day’.

However, please excuse me if I have got somewhat muddled. 
Elsie, a London pensioner, told the national media how she spent all day riding around London on a No 73 bus (Tottenham Swan to Victoria Station), courtesy of her Freedom Pass, to avoid paying high home heating bills which she could no longer afford. 

With a good view from the top deck of the bus, Elsie noticed how London was desperately short of new trees, so an arborist neighbour who manages the trees and shrubs at Elsie’s North London home offered to contact the government’s tree tsar about her concerns. 

“And did you get a good response?” asked a reporter from a national newspaper. “No,” said Elsie, who described the reply from some bloke called George as completely useless and totally irrelevant to her query about the apparent lack of new planting in London.

“Don’t you worry yourself about the trees, ‘Duchess’, because at least two supermarket chains have a special offer on their own-brand baked beans this week”, went the reply. What, more guff and wind, no doubt.

Dr Terry Mabbett