Forestry History

Forestry like farming is one of the original industries. People will have always needed forest products, from firewood to baskets people have throughout history needed to manage the woodlands around them to provide their needs.

Through thousands of years of development people have altered the woodlands around them to suit their needs. The word “acre” refers to the area of land needed to feed a pig on acorns.

By the middle ages a sophisticated system was used throughout Britain and Europe, where areas were systematically cut or coppiced in strict rotation to optimize the quality and type of material needed. From hazel cut on 7 year rotation for sheep hurdles, thatching spars, bean poles, and pea sticks, through to oak, coppiced every 27 years for fence posts and rails, firewood, and bark for tanning leather. Every type of tree was used differently, each perfect for its chosen use, elm for the hubs of wheels, ash for the rims, oak for the spokes, people understood the properties, and skilled crafts people converted them into the finished product.

As the industrial revolution progressed, industry started to develop alternatives to these ancient skills. By the First World War the need for timber was so great many woods were cut out of rotation and more than would normally be taken was, due to the need.

The forestry commission was established after the war to replace the timber and manage what remained for future needs. Reliance was placed on quick growing conifers to quickly provide usable timber, this increased after the Second World War, and as the technology advanced machines started to replace skilled crafts people, and many of the traditional skills were either lost or remained in only a few hands.

Technology advances finally lead to modern harvesting machinery which enabled 2 workers to harvest, process, and move to the roadside, vast quantities of timber each day, from the safety of the cab. This on many levels is the optimum harvesting technique, its safe, efficient causes very little ground damage and produces a high quality product, all in all, very industrial.

What the future needs

So if it’s so great why are we converting Ffynone back to broadleaf trees and reintroducing coppice systems?

We believe the current system works well in a centralised industrial, military complex. In a local, oil scarce, labour intensive economy we believe coppice systems will be needed. This is because they are local friendly; the trees are cut regularly, so they don’t get so big as to be unmanageable by normal people. They produce material suitable for supplying things that people need. And the diverse species develop the soil biosphere more sustainably.

Although we are going to need to learn a lot of new skills to be able to produce complex products like clogs, or cartwheels. If the materials are growing it should be feasible to relearn skills.

Forests already have an ecologically sound footprint

With all the nonsense of carbon trading and carbon footprints, that people talk about these days, by people who refuse to live differently, and think they can just trade some third world persons surplus carbon credit, and develop whole systems to justify it. It is good to know that forestry is naturally sustainable, in the true sense of the word.

People have sustained the ability to use trees throughout history, and will no doubt continue to do so. But for those interested in figures,  Sandy Greig did a study for the commission in 2006 and surveyed  the impact of the largest forest in the U.K. ‘Kielder’ which is  62,000 hectares (155,000acres) produces 400,000 tonnes of timber a year, needing 3 million trees to be replanted to replace them.

The growing timber locks away 300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide every year, meanwhile forestry operations including harvesting and haulage emitted just 7,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

It must also be remembered that the use of timber has multiple benefits, unless burned it continues to lock up carbon, in the form of the finished product. If burnt it only releases modern carbon, not ancient carbon like coal and oil. If it is used locally and instead of concrete or steel, there is added benefit as it reduces the need for mining and processing.

That’s why we believe in trees, either efficiently harvested conifers, being sold locally, or coppice systems either way trees keep on growing.

So spread a little love, plant some trees.

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