by Forest Manager, Andrew Baker, Session 4 Chair
Several months ago I received an email from Shireen Chambers, Executive Director of the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF), inviting me to chair a session of the ICF National Conference in April 2019. Naturally I assumed she had emailed the wrong person, and so a week later, when I got a second email asking the same question, I scrambled to get on the phone to Shireen and assure her that yes I was definitely keen! Shireen then explained that I would be chairing the fourth session of the conference, “Delivering Global Environmental Services from Forests”. I was thrilled to hear this as I’m genuinely passionate about the myriad social, environmental and economic benefits forests can afford.
Roll forwards four months and the conference was a few weeks away. Nathaniel Jackson, Events Manager at the ICF, sent me through everything I would need to help prepare for the conference, explaining the role of the chair, event timings and most importantly, information on my wonderful panellists. I then sought advice from colleagues, researched the session topic at length and in desperation watched BBC Question Time on repeat. Still, I was getting pretty nervous.
I drove up to Oxford the day before the conference and was greeted by a contingent of my old Tilhill Forestry team from Wales, many of whom I hadn’t seen for far too long. It was great to catch up with everyone, and after being assured several times that the main reason they came to the conference was so they could watch/heckle my session, I headed back to the hotel. As an aside, the choice of venue for the conference, Oxford University, was truly spectacular.
The first day of the conference saw the first three sessions, covering a variety of topics from the global trade in wood products to the social benefits delivered from the World’s forests. We were also lucky enough to receive a video address from HRH The Prince of Wales, which in all honesty only made me more nervous to see the real significance of the conference. Throughout the day I paid particularly close attention to the other session chairs as I still hadn’t really decided how I wanted to introduce my session, panellists, or how I would facilitate the Q & A session. It immediately became evident to me that every chair had their own unique style and that they all seemed to work very well.
The first day came to a close with the ICF 2019 AGM, where it was great to see my Scottish colleague Kerstin Leslie be elected to the ICF Council. The AGM was followed by a delicious meal at the Lady Margaret Hall, with an after dinner speech by Professor Julian Evans OBE stealing the show. As I was still yet to meet most of my panel, I sought them out after dinner and chatted through the following day’s presentations and also spoke to several industry members I hadn’t been introduced to before. One person in particular I was pleased to speak to was Frances Seymour of the World Resources Institute whose presentation that day had blown us all away.
The following morning, my panellists and I met with Nathaniel Jackson and the great technical team who’d been keeping the conference running so smoothly thus far. We spoke about timings, microphones, and got a picture together (see below) before the conference began. Geraint Richards MVO, the conference chair, then introduced the second day of the conference and me to the stage. I must say following Geraint wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, presenting is clearly in his blood, but I did my best. I then gave a brief introduction to the day, followed by a short summary of myself and some of my personal highlights from the day before. The main one to note right now was that of Berry Wiersum, CEO of Sappi Europe. He explained how the public perception of sustainable forestry was rapidly changing for the better, and how in the eyes of many he personally had evolved from a devil to a saint.
I then proceeded to introduce each of my panellists to the stage individually. Alexander Burk, Executive Director of the International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO), was the first to present, exploring the importance of Global Science Collaboration. He was then followed by Robert Matthews of Forest Research, who examined the UK’s role in Action on Climate Change. Last but in no way least was Professor Colin Galbraith, Vice-Chair of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), who highlighted the importance of the World’s forest biodiversity. We then all returned to the stage for a Q & A session with the panel, where my main role as facilitator was to strictly enforce timings and to help direct questions to the most relevant panellist. Any apprehension I’d had about this session was entirely unfounded, as all questions and answers were clear, succinct, and most importantly, interesting. At the allotted time I then drew the session to a close with my role complete, even though by that point I was really getting into it and didn’t want to leave the stage. The power of deciding who would ask questions and how long panellists would have to answer them had clearly gone to my head and so I think ending there was definitely for the best.
The rest of the conference was far more enjoyable for me than the first day as I didn’t have that unenviable feeling of dread sat in my stomach. As a final note, my favourite session of the entire conference (other than my own, obviously) had to be the final session: Inspiring the Next Generation. This session covered a range of topics from inspiring future foresters to Climate Change mitigation, and as a current ’young‘ professional, I was genuinely inspired.
Looking back, the experience of chairing part of such an important conference was incredible, and is something that I will never forget. The major themes throughout the conference focussed on Climate Change, the development of young professionals and diversity in the forest industry, all on a Global scale. These are all tremendously important to me and I am incredibly thankful to the ICF for inviting me to be involved in an event with such significant messages, at such a crucial time. Following the recent statement from the IPCC that we have less than 12 years left to prevent a climate catastrophe, we all have a responsibility to make the biggest impact we can. Not just for ourselves, but for the generations to come.