Trees and woods offer great potential to rebuilding our wider relationship with nature, reinforcing local identity and sustaining wildlife. There is a utilitarian need to plant millions of trees to lock up carbon to ameliorate the effects of climate change, to help shade our towns and cities and bring shelter and beauty to places. The upsurge of action early in 2011 to stop the sell off of Forestry Commission land demonstrates widespread interest in access to wooded landscapes. Since then, much good work has been done to sustain this public interest and provide an opportunity for rethinking our relationship with woods, notably by organisations such as the Woodland Trust, the National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Welsh National Parks, Community Woodlands Association, Plunkett Foundation, Llais y Goedwig (Community Woodlands), the National Trust, Wildlife Trusts, progressive town councils and the Forestry Commission (especially the groundbreaking approaches to land reform and support for community forestry in Scotland). There are many initiatives and innovative projects which need amplification and action to reach beyond themselves, whether they are focussed on planting and caring for trees, or aimed at stimulating education, improved well-being, social inclusion or economic equality.
The problems we face are varied. Domestically, dieback and other diseases and threats are on the increase. Often, the wrong sort of trees are often planted in inappropriate places, with lack of after care bringing loss and more carbon emission. Not everybody has the access or confidence to be in wooded landscapes. There is often scepticism about living close to big trees, indeed, local authorities – London, Sheffield, etc. – often favour cutting trees down or the planting of small ornamental trees in our streets where once lofty trees were welcome. We import too many wood products and send great amounts to landfill that could be reused or recycled. Ancient woodland, community orchards and allotments are always under pressure from developers and councils for more car parks, quarries or housing, often using outdated arguments and false promises about economic growth.
Yet there is much to be hopeful about. Community woodland and social forestry initiatives are spreading all over the country at the moment. Wildlife conservation, wood fuel and timber for joinery are no longer the only reasons people are living closer to trees. Care in the community for the elderly, apprenticeships for the young, forest allotments, cooperative fuel initiatives, artistic practice, architectural education, Forest School, woodland permaculture: these are just some of the ways that individuals and communities all over the country are using woodlands today, improving biodiversity, creating new community spaces and bringing woodlands back into the everyday life of more people.
This book will celebrate those people and offer their examples as inspiration to others.