A blog by Assistant Forest Manager Gary Waters, Central Borders
As I sit here and write this blog, in the broom cupboard come hastily converted office, I can’t help but address the events currently developing across the world. The pandemic gripping us all has, in no doubt, affected everyone in a variety of ways. At the very least, our way of life has been challenged.
Whilst working in the forest over the past few months it has been comforting to draw upon an old forester’s proverb;
“The trees will still grow”.
Whilst we each play our part in combatting the virus; the trees are quietly and diligently working away absorbing water, nutrients from the soil and, most importantly, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Through this tireless work each tree puts on new growth, of which approximately 50% is composed of carbon. Given time (typically 40-45 years for productive conifers) and the occasional helping hand from an observant forester, each tree will have developed into a mature standard– ready for harvest. Each individual part of the 1.3 million hectares of productive woodland within the UK, which, thanks to the machinations of the forest industry, produces circa 11 million tonnes* of timber used to build, power and furnish homes across the UK and internationally. Given this context, I am proud to be a part of the team who, within Tilhill’s Lithsdale & Lothian Area, manages over 28,000 hectares. All of which continue to grow whilst our lives unfold around and within them.
Whilst the trees keep on growing, I am always mindful of the timescales that a forester works within. Timescales which far exceed those of many other professions, a point which I think is perfectly summarised by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy in her piece ‘Forest.’
“The forest keeps different time: slow hours as long as your life”
It is these “slow hours” which provide both a challenge and opportunity for management. Firstly, the steady but incessant growth of trees provides time for their custodians to monitor their health and progress towards the point of harvesting. It also allows for the proper planning of future management and the establishment of long-term stewardship plans.
The challenge arises when we plan the long-term harvesting and restocking (replanting) of a property. At this point a crystal ball would be useful to help anticipate the future demand for timber and to predict climatic conditions within which the next generation of trees will grow and anticipate the development of any infrastructure required to facilitate operations.
Building on the concept of resilience covered by Eddie Addis in the previous blog, the development of forests which are biologically and economically resilient to any future changes is one of the joyous challenges tackled by Tilhill’s Forest Managers with the application of technical knowledge; experience and local awareness.
In my humble opinion, it is the development of these long-term forest plans which offer the greatest opportunity to a forester. The ability to stamp their mark on hundreds of hectares must not be undervalued. To be content in the knowledge that through our work the landscape we walk within has been carefully considered and cared for to the benefit of future generations.
Ultimately, the point I am trying to get across is that foresters have the unique opportunity to step into the slow hours and work with the forest’s time. I am glad to say that I am lucky enough, particularly in these recent times, to of had that chance.
And until the next time.
P.S. Don’t worry – “The trees will keep on growing”
* UK Forest Industry statistics sourced from Forest Research (2019) : Available from https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/statistics/forestry-statistics/