The debate rages over UK deforestation - well, no, actually it doesn't!

The Confederation of Forest Industries is on the warpath over our call for a gradual and measured return to heathland of some land currently covered with conifer crops.  Our ask is not that we fell ancient native woodland (that would be daft!), nor that the area of woodland in the UK should decline (we'd like it to increase providing the trees go in sensible places) but that when conifer crops come to their natural felling age (and many thousands of hectares will over the next decade), then if they are in areas of former heathland (most won't be!) a proportion of that land should be returned to heaths to benefit threatened wildlife and to help achieve government habitat targets.  I'm sorry that isn't very revolutionary but we are quite modest, probably too modest, in our ambitions.

Nonetheless, ConFor, which exists  ' help build the market for timber, timber products and forest services, create a supportive policy environment for the forest industries and to help our members become more competitive and successful.', is actively lobbying against heathland re-creation.  Well, they would wouldn't they?  Stuart Goodall and I had a debate on Redio 5 Live yesterday afternoon but there's never enough time to get into the details on that type of opportunity. 

The ConFor line is that trees store carbon and help mitigate climate change (they do, but compared with tropical forests we are talking about very small amounts), that forestry provides jobs (it does - so does every money-earning activity - but then so does nature conservation!) and that forests have lots of wildlife too (they do, although conifer crops are a long way down the list for wildlife-richness and heathland is, in contrast, a diminished and internationally important habitat).

A few more words on trees - we like them!  We are planting and encouraging natural regeneration of native woodland on RSPB nature reserves such as Abernethy and Geltsdale, and we have some other fantastic woodland nature reserves (see for example the Gwenffrwd, Wood of Cree and  Ynys-Hir) but we are also removing conifer crops to create open wildlife habitats at a few of our nature reserves (see Tudely Woods, The Lodge, Farnham Heath and on a grand and spectacular scale at Forsinard.  On balance we create more woodland than we remove - but we make no apology for restoring some areas that have been damaged by commercial forestry to their former wildlife richness.

The RSPB is a voice for nature but ConFor is a voice for commercial forestry.  And the NFU is a voice for the farming industry (although I doubt that organic farmers think they get much of a voice from the NFU).  And there is a host of other trade associations that are lobbying  for their own commercial interests.  Is there any difference between a charity like us and a trade association?  Aren't both just arguing for a narrow interest?  I think not.  I don't earn more money if we are successful in our lobbying, and nor do the RSPB's over a million members!  The RSPB is not arguing from a vested interest - except the vested interest of the planet and wildlife! 

It's always the case that well-funded industries are active at lobbying government and other decision-makers.  At a time when the world is going through financial difficulties the danger is that the focus on money becomes even stronger - and Nature gets pushed aside.  If you would like to strengthen the RSPB's voice for nature then please sign our Letter to the Future - we will use your voice to add to ours to influence how governments spend money and to argue that nature is not badly harmed by public spending cuts.

  • Me again Mark,not RSPB thing but you are into conservation and sure to have contacts.Someone on Mull last year suggested what a great place for colonising with red squirrels so perhaps you could fancy being a big help to a terribly beleaguered species,Mull has a wonderful lot of Pine Forests.  

  • Wonder if the Country needs to try and produce enough softwoods for our own use if possible seems unfair to import massive amounts if that is what we do.