The Woodland Trust

What national organisation has three hundred staff, many thousands of members and volunteers and is based in Grantham? If you don't know, a further (strong) clue is that it owns and manages 1100 woodlands. Yes, our guest speaker for June was Gerald Price, a volunteer with the Woodland Trust, who set out the story behind its comparatively recent foundation, its aims and objectives. Most people know of the National Trust and perhaps the Woodland Trust suffers a little from under exposure beside its much larger cousin. Nevertheless, since its foundation forty three years ago, it has gone from strength to strength, benefiting from the growing awareness of the vital relevance that woodlands have to the ecosystems of our planet.

Gerald reminded us that a woodland should not be thought of as dark, sinister place devoid of life, a thing of fairy tales. In fact, the very opposite is true. Whether it's in the canopy, the branches, the understorey or even underground amongst the roots, there's a teeming population of creatures, flowers and fungi which depend upon trees to be their hosts. The longevity of most of the tree species means that life can grow, change and adapt over time. The vital role that trees play in our lives goes far beyond their ability to fix carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and hence ameliorate the impact of global warming; they are an integral part of the functioning of our ecosystems.

The Trust's three principal aims are to create, protect and restore woodland. Great Britain is not a heavily wooded country, primarily because of agricultural improvement and enclosure, combined with the demands of war, when extensive areas of mature oak were felled to build sailing ships. We have about 12.5% tree cover, which may seem adequate, but it is small compared to most of our European neighbours. Outstandingly, Estonia has 80% cover! It is the view of ecologists, that to promote biodiversity, the target should be about 25%. So there's some way to go to increase our tree cover. In the process, however, it is important to protect the trees we already possess. Their protection means that the trees are longer lived and, as a direct consequence, the species dependent upon them also flourish. It is particularly important to ensure that our surviving ancient woodland is protected and managed. Any woodland over 400 years old will have developed complex ecosystems, which are difficult to nurture in the short term. If we want biodiversity then we must ensure our oldest woodlands are helped to survive

Restoration implies managing what we've got in better ways. Much previously managed woodland was simply abandoned to its fate when the demand for wood contracted. Originally wood was needed for building materials, fencing, furniture, and fuel. New technologies reduced the demand for large volumes of timber and so local woodlands were just left to their own devices. The Woodland Trust has a role in taking over neglected woodland and managing it through thinning, selective clearance and replanting. In addition, the current presence of a number of threatening tree diseases, means that better woodland management through clearance of diseased trees takes on a special importance.

Once a site has been acquired and restored, or planted, the Trust ensures that interpretation boards are erected and that, where possible, public access is encouraged. This policy has been very successful. As walking both for leisure and health increases in popularity so the Trust's woodlands, like our nearby Pipe Hill Woods, are increasingly well used. There is a stubborn myth amongst the general public that tree planting yields minimal impact in the short term; that it is the next generation that will benefit. This is untrue. New planting starts to have a visual impact after ten years (as a visit to the National Memorial Arboretum will show). So please take a trip out for a stroll in a woodland! Should you particularly wish to visit one of the Trust's woods, perhaps near Lichfield, then visit where you will find all the information you require for a day out.

Roger Hockney
June 2015