Thomas Hardy used the fictional Egdon Heath in his novels to exemplify untameable nature whose enemy was civilisation.

Since Hardy was born, the area of lowland heathland has shrunken considerably and since he died the rate of loss accelerated.  Some has been lost to housing, some to agriculture and much to forestry plantations.  Where pine plantations have been planted there is still a window of opportunity to restore the land to heath after the crop of trees is harvested.  And government policy has long been for more of this to happen but the Forestry Commission has been slow to move on this subject.

Lowland heath is an internationally important habitat - rare in world terms and unlucky enough to have been common in southern England where decades of human pressure have been greatest.  The Lawton report could easily have had lowland heath in mind when it called for more, bigger, better managed and better connected habitat areas - but then again that is the refrain that applies to most habitats of conservation interest. 

The RSPB has been involved in restoring heathland on many sites - here at The Lodge for one, but also places like Farnham Heath too.  It can be done, and it can be popular too, once one gets over the knee-jerk reaction that any tree is a good tree even if it is an American species planted in sterile rows across a previously nature-rich habitat.

Given the huge scale of loss of heath it is surely time to 'Lawtonise' heathland and make a real difference to its extent over the next few decades.  Think what a cultural asset it would be in the crowded south of England to have more areas for recreation and enjoyment of nature. 

A love of the natural world demonstrates that a person is a cultured inhabitant of planet Earth.

  • Sorry Forestry Outlaw, what I'm saying is the exact opposite of what you are saying - I'd like to see leaders in conservation, forestry and farming thinking bigger and broader - had the RSPB done that over heathland and promoted the key issue of the Forestry Commission's remit - what we, the public, are aksing it to do its just possible the forestry debacle might not have taken place - and the open habitats policy not dissapeared under sales and politics. The myth (Caroline Spelman seems very keen on them !) that the FC is just about timber which has persisted way beyond the reality has already done a lot of damage - not least to RSPB's ambitions.

    The Expert Forestry Panel face a real challenge: are we going to get a shopping list of sectoral demands ? Or can they take a step into the future and recognise that multi-purpose landscapes as demonstrated on a large scale by FC can do more for all of us than the narrow, single purpose objectives typical of how we do things now ? Its a time when we badly need vision - is it out there ?

  • Trees not always good and there's the challenge - educating the public that nature conservation isn't about planting trees which most people who have a vague interest in nature seem to think.

    Anyone who takes a smidgin of interest in the RSPB and actually reads their website and takes advantage of the free services offered to farmers and other bodies will not recognise the claim made by Forestry Outlaw - I certainly don't and I'm one providing a free service to said farmers ! Working in partnership  - most definitely.

  • Firstly Mark best wishes on your new adventures.

    Jockyshield and Nightjar have nailed it very well and I accept Bob apology in full. Given all the other reasons why we need to be more pragmatic in our approach to nature, it would seem further promotion of a purest approach to Lawsonisation is the last thing we need.

    The problems we face are not with our excellent ground level staff, although I reserve an exclusion for the activities at Farnham Heath, which have polarised the locals and isolated us with other landowners.

    We should shine a light on senior RSPB people to be truly applied in their approach to nature conservation. If we could lose some of their uncompromising approaches to farmers and forester, then more of our aims could be achieved in partnership.

    Sadly, our recent involvement in recent forestry débâcle, we have shown everyone we are willing mercenaries to ideology and bad policy, even if it meet our aims, and is against the public interest. Do you truly believe people trust us now?

    Trees good, dogma bad.

    Redkite - the policy was complete over a year ago........

  • What has happened to the Forestry Commission's Open Habitats Project? This project was announced only 2/3 years ago and its aim was/is to remove plantation forestry from sensitive habitats wrongly planted up years ago. These habitats not only include heathland but also chalk/limestone downland. The project seems to have sunk into one of numerous Government "black holes" but it is very important and needs to be high on the agenda of this " Committee" that is to review the future of England's forests and woodlands following withdrawl of the "sell off" proposals.


  • The case for restoring semi-natural habitat is overwhelming - there is so little left. But I don't think we should 'Lawtonise' it - Lawton along with Food Security and all the other sectoral bids belong in the 20th C - we need to go beyond, think bigger not just in expanding habitats but in creating landscapes & economies - the answer to trees in the wrong place is not a sectoral attack - especially one that 'blames' for activities that were at least seen as appropriate at the time, but to think forward, make the value judgements for the future and think carefully about how we best de-carbonise, reverse the decline in biodiversity and create real 'green' jobs and beautiful places in our crowded country. We need new New Foret's, huge habitats where unexpected things happen, the landscape changes and has space to move around, produces some hard products, lots of biodiversity, lots of places for people - and get away from the neatly fenced, categorised habitats of the lean years of the late 20th C. But that is asking a lot when, if anything, our way of thinking is veering more and more towards single purpose, maximum intensity production whether its wildlife or wheat.