Small Woods response to National Park and AONB Landscape Review

1. Small Woodland Objectives for National Parks

The woodland perspective is one that should be prominent within the National Park review. Woodlands are an integral part of our finest landscapes. From the sessile oak woods of the Lake District to the Beech Hangers of the South Downs, it is trees and woodlands that frame our most iconic views. Woodlands are integral to the sense of place of our protected landscapes, however, their protection is disjointed and inconsistent.

For example, whilst National Park and AONB Management Plans are consistent in their recognition of the landscape importance of their woodlands, the implementation can often work against the rhetoric. Woodlands are dynamic entities and the maintenance of their many values and indeed their place in the landscape requires the conditions to be right for their sustainable management. Yet our members often report opposition from NP and AONB executives to their efforts in pursuit of sustainable management.

There is evidence that the Sandford Principles are not being adhered to with respect to access in woodlands, or that they are being too zealously or blindly applied, leading to unmanaged and under-managed woodlands, with consequently declining environmental, social and economic value. For example, on the one hand open access in woodlands that are important for biodiversity is having a negative impact on their flora and fauna. On the other hand sensible requests for ancillary structures for woodland management, such as shelters for people and equipment are being refused due to a lack of understanding of the sector’s requirements. This was most recently exemplified by the Hillyfield Planning Inquiry in Dartmoor National Park. It can therefore be argued that the absence of a balanced approach to wildlife management and the cessation of woodland management altogether is leading to a degradation of our most important woodlands and their conservation value.

It is our hope that the outcomes of the review can lead towards a more enlightened approach to the practical requirements of woodland management and that wildlife value and opportunities for sustainable livelihoods improve as a result.

2. Key issues for small woodlands in protected landscapes

In overview there are 5 key themes for Small Woodlands owners and managers that we would like to see brought into consideration for the National Parks Review.

2.1 Improve and extend woodland management

The most pressing issue for woodlands in our designated areas is the lack of management. This is also the single most pressing threat to our woodlands and has several dimensions.

Over 50% of our woodlands are un-managed or under-managed due to a combination of lack of skills, expertise, markets, motivation, as well as demographic change. Whilst all of these issues can be addressed, however, as with many complex problems, it is very difficult to overcome such many-faceted problems when so many things need to be overcome at once. We would therefore advocate that change needs to begin with hearts and minds of both the general public and those responsible for the designation and regulation of our finest landscapes.

One of the key drivers is people, and people with the skills and desire to manage woodlands have been a dwindling resource across much of England in the 20th and now 21st centuries. That trend is however beginning to change and we are seeing a growing number of people coming to organisations like the Small Woods Association asking for ways they can become involved in woodland craft and management. This is now where a dichotomy starts to arise. As explained below in the “Working woodlands..” section.

Another key dimension of enabling our most treasured landscapes to move forward into the next decade with confidence is how to maintain and regenerate woodland cover in the face of unsustainable rises in squirrel and deer populations. Both deer and squirrels pose existential threats to our woodlands and particularly to the ability of mixed age stands to regenerate. In many woodlands the next generation of woodland succession is simply not coming through due to deer browsing damage and those that do survive are then so damaged by squirrels when they reach 15-20 years old that they do not survive, or only do so in a damaged and attenuated form.

Alignment to the 25 year Environment Plan requires woodlands to have a future. Our current approach to woodland management is disjointed and bound to failure, if it does not become more serious about these issues.

2.2 Working woodlands in a working landscape

England’s National Parks are the way they are, due to the fact they are working landscapes. In the farming sector, due to 4 decades of support through the Common Agricultural Policy, agricultural skills have been maintained in the countryside. The same cannot be said for woodland management and skills. In this sense the CAP has been a lopsided policy, focused largely on agriculture, whilst other forms of land management have received significantly less comprehensive support. Long term demographic and societal meta-trends have also contributed.

However, these trends are now showing signs of reversal and it will be to society’s benefit and to that of our most treasured landscapes if National Parks and AONB are now proactive in developing policies and facilitating developments that enable people who will provide for the manifold management needs that our woodlands need, to live and work in the countryside. Such changes could also facilitate the establishment of more sustainable livelihoods, with people living and working in the landscapes for which they are caring. As

land use requirements change, it would be an enlightened, if radical approach, if a proportion of tenanted agricultural units were repurposed for a future which has far more woodland

2.3 Landscapes working for communities

The past few decades have seen fewer and fewer people who live in National Park and AONB communities making their living from the land. For some such communities living in these environments, the beauty that surrounds them can seem like a straitjacket that provides nothing concrete to the lives of its communities; in the words of the former Rural Development Commission “You can’t eat the view”. It is our contention however that our finest landscapes can indeed hold the key to the health, wellbeing and sustainable livelihoods of their local communities. Specifically, in the woodland sector, there is a growing appreciation that there is a “Long Tail”1 to Forestry, in that the diversity of livelihoods based on small woodlands is wide and is only growing.

2.4 Woodlands for Wellbeing

The 8-point plan for England’s National Parks highlights the role played by our protected areas in health, wellbeing and social welfare. Our woodlands have a largely unrealised potential to foster health and wellbeing and create a “win-win set of outcomes” of healthy woods and healthy people. For example, by encouraging communities to get involved in the management of woodlands in and around communities, it promotes positive use, promotes environmental awareness and reduces negative effects, such as the tendency of unmanaged spaces to become “no go” areas. This goes well beyond the restorative powers of a stroll with the dog and there is a growing body of evidence that such activities in a woodland setting have greater positive health outcomes when appropriately designed and facilitated. The skills and capacities of those supporting these activities are also developing and new disciplines are being established in “Social Forestry”, “Mindfulness” and “Forest Bathing”.

2.5 Extending woodland cover

There is a widespread consensus behind the need for an extension in woodland cover, as England is one of the least wooded countries in Europe and an increase in woodland cover will help the country to address its climate change needs. There are one or two reasons to suggest that protected areas should be at the forefront of this change, as they include some of the most important woodlands and they could in fact become laboratories for change, embracing agro-forestry and driving forward change in the uplands.

3. Issues raised by the consultation themes which are relevant to Small Woodlands, their owners and managers

3.1 Governance

The governance of our National Parks and AONBs needs to ensure that small woodland owners are represented on their Boards. Woodland ownership is changing quickly and communication between National Parks and their local woodland owners is markedly less

effective than it is with farmers, fishers and those representing other land use types. With over 400,000 small woodlands across the UK, small woodlands are not the minority they may be imagined to be.

3.2 Financing

Those conducting the consultation and setting the framework for National Parks should recognise that the environment for funding within which the non-government sector is operating is very competitive and many small and medium sized charities are struggling for funding. No outcome from this consultation should lead National Parks and AONBs, as central government designations, to provide more competition for diminishing Non-government sector resources, as this would further weaken the non-government sector on which all sectors of society depend.

3.3 Areas for consideration for new designations

Whilst this is not at the heart of the Small Woods mission, we note that the map of designations serves the Midlands particularly poorly. We would recommend the consideration of areas in those parts of the country where designation would celebrate fine landscapes that are currently unrecognised, such as the Charnwood Forest, which was of course on the original short list for National Park consideration in the 1940s. Other Midlands areas for consideration might include Sherwood Forest or the National Forest.

4. The Small Woods Association

Small Woods Association is the foremost independent membership organisation that exists to support woodland owners across the UK. Established in 1988 in response to the need to support woodland owners in addressing the many challenges that face Small Woodlands. Its objectives are:

* To increase the sustainable management of small woodlands

* To promote the wider utilisation of local timber and wood products

The association has 2350 members, who between them own approximately 28,000ha. of woodland, a similar woodland area to that owned by the Woodland Trust.

Small Woods Association are keen to use our practical experience in the management of small woodlands in the support of the consultation. The Association has a long track record of delivering woodland management support projects, for example, the successful and well-regarded Heartwoods programme, as well as working with Forest Research on mobilisation of small woodland resources in the SIMWOOD project and a range of publications on the management and marketing of woodlands and wood products.

Annex – Objectives of the Review

* the existing statutory purposes for National Parks and AONBs and how effectively they are being met

* the alignment of these purposes with the goals set out in the 25-Year Plan for the Environment

* the case for extension or creation of new designated areas

* how to improve individual and collective governance of National Parks and AONBs, and how that governance interacts with other national assets

* the financing of National Parks and AONBs

* how to enhance the environment and biodiversity in existing designations

* how to build on the existing eight-point plan for National Parks and to connect more people with the natural environment from all sections of society and improve health and wellbeing

* how well National Parks and AONBs support communities.