Grants - Philanthropy and Investment in Forestry

Whilst enjoying summer visits to fine gardens with tree collections and strolling in dappled woodlands, do ponder on a few things.

Forestry was never high on the list for get rich quick enterprises although it is a sound long term investment - both in financially terms and social benefits as well for the environment. For some time now, the great emphasis is on the provision of rather generous grants. Particularly, in these times of austerity for the tax payer, this munificence needs carefully scrutiny. Without the current level of grants, just how many woodland owners face destitution and the prospect of living off a Job Seekers Allowance? Woodlands are free of Inheritance Tax and all sales of timber produce are free of income tax too.

Local Woodlands in Lowland Britain
Since the parties in power, misjudged the strength of public opposition to the sell off of even more Forestry Commission woodlands, pressure has been exerted on local authorities to dispose of their local woodlands by giving them away to charities or funding local groups to take over looking after them. What is wrong with that? Well nothing, until you think what would happen if you give away ownership your house but continued to pay the bills. The absence of any balance sheets in the public domain obscures the real cost to taxpayers.

This is the situation now happening in counties all over England. Meanwhile charities, valuing the PR especially for corporate donations, like the idea of having woodland given to them; they do not have the expertise, equipment or knowledge to do this either economically or well. The only rationale is for citizens to demand real accountability and that means with a proper set of accounts.

This will be complicated by the complicity of the charities themselves, who not only received the philanthropy from the public of Gift Aid but also grants from a variety of governmental sources. The value too, of the time given by an army of comfortably off pensioners, increasingly being institutionalized into volunteering, whilst so many young citizens are unemployed - some burdened with the debt of obtaining a degree level education, should be brought into the equation too.

Professor Bernd Heinrich of the University of Vermont has written: "The very idea of 'managing' a forest in the first place is oxymoronic, because a forest is an ecosystem that is by definition self-managing." Whilst the truth of this is incontestable, within our life span and that of our children and their children, to get the best from our forests and woodlands needs long term perspective and planning. Multi-purpose forestry can be profitable whilst providing wider social and wildlife benefits too which anyone would applaud as a good investment but it is a matter of scale so one area balances out the costs in another.

It is clearly beneficial for all local woodlands in any one area to be in a group for overall care. Especially so, when they are primarily for public benefit and public ownership seems the rational option too. The better opinion would suggest this should generally be at a countywide level, overseen by appropriately qualified staff. Those who have spent three years gaining a forestry degree and ideally, worked in the commercial sector too, have the knowledge and experience of forest economics essential to get the best multi purpose benefits (which ought to include timber products) and these are the very experts whose voices, need to be heard by ordinary people who only then can demand better, which must start proper financial statements.

Footnote: Pest and Diseases
Those who have followed this page know, despite the government calling upon the public 'to be watchful and act responsibly' regarding imported tree pests and diseases, the real answer lies with Parliamentary action. The main problem is that EU plant health regulations make it difficult to get a ban in a member country before there is a problem there. As Britain's large woodland and gardening charities have failed, it is clear pressure from ordinary citizens is needed to change these as well as some of those of World Trade Organization which has allowed plant diseases and pests to cross continents so easily through imported nursery stock. Therefore, for everyone who cares about Britain's trees and woodlands, it is urgent that they write themselves and try get as local groups together to also write to relevant government departments and ministers as well as their own Member of Parliament on these issues.

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