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.
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 ?
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