The Perception of Forestry and Forestry Operations

by Luke Cross Assistant Forest Manager, Wales

Hello everyone, my name is Luke Cross and I am an Assistant Forest Manager in the Wales Bala office. I have been working for Tilhill Forestry as part of the graduate scheme for over 12 months and boy has the time flown by! This will be my third blog with the first covering my entry into the forest industry and the latest discussing the modesty of the forest industry.

I have decided to talk about something which has been on my mind since I joined Tilhill Forestry last year, a point which I think is a very common area for discussion across the industry. It is something which can be either a major bugbear or something which we should embrace as an opportunity and that is: The perception of forestry and forestry operations.

Now I am sure we can all start thinking of elements in our lives where the differences in perception can lead to potentially serious consequences with none more prevalent in modern times than the Brexit negotiations! Now rest assured this blog will not get political! The difference in the perception of UK forestry may not matter as much as Brexit but it could have similar serious knock on effects for the forest industry and our environment.

It is becoming ever more mainstream that trees are good and that we must plant more trees! There have been hugely successful schemes across the world which have led, in some cases, to over 353 million tree seedlings being planted in a single day in Ethiopia. This is fantastic news and I hope there will be many more cases of mass plantings in areas which have historically been deforested.

Now this is where my thoughts turn to the perception of UK forestry and the well-intended nature of the wider public, and in some cases, the difference in perception within the industry.

Myself and my line manager John Ferguson were recently invited to a local planning meeting administered by Natural Resources Wales on behalf of the Welsh Government to discuss future land management strategies. It was a fascinating day where people from all professional backgrounds of the land-based industries were able to discuss a future strategy to ensure a sustainable landscape for the future.

As representatives ’from the commercial forestry world’ it felt like most of our day was spent defending or changing the perception that we are not Sitka spruce farming for money, hell bent on chopping down trees. There was genuine scepticism when we discussed the vast proportion of our client’s properties which have large areas of broadleaves, where our client’s objectives may not primarily be the production of timber and where the future management is aiming to link these habitats and increase broadleaf cover.

This discussion has led us onto another area of perception, where softwood is bad and hardwood is good.  All trees lock carbon, filter air and water and provide habitats. There is no disputing that native broadleaves provide a habitat for a larger array of species, however, there is also no disputing, from my personal opinion and knowledge, that a well-managed forest complex provides all of these benefits around an economically viable and sustainable forest industry. This ensures the continued management and improvement of these habitats and the provision of all the great points detailed in previous Tilhill Forestry blogs to combat climate change.

This is none more evident than the estate known as Clocaenog Forest (approx. 4500 ha), which 60-70 years ago was afforested from improved upland grazing by the Forestry Commission. This area now provides one of the last remaining bastions for Red Squirrels south of Scotland and a habitat for Pine Martin, Goshawks, Nightjars and Black Grouse which are all important European Protected Species.

Our forest properties are enjoyed by thousands of people annually, not many of these people see these forests as a working environment.

 In writing this blog I had a quick scan of the internet and it doesn’t take long to find well-intentioned people heavily criticising the harvesting of trees. I myself have been confronted by members of the public while coppicing hazel, furious I was felling hardwoods (they didn’t mind me removing softwoods) therefore not fully appreciating the benefits of coppicing as an age-old method for managing woodlands and encouraging future growth. The perception that harvesting equals deforestation and not fully understanding the long-term rotation of forestry is an ever- increasing issue, especially on social media. It would be made easier if we could view forestry similarly to a farmer and his field of wheat, these trees have been planted to be harvested but rather than a year till the combine begins, these forests can take up to 70 years, and once harvested they are replanted to make way for the next generation of trees.

The world we know is surrounded by forest products as a result of harvesting, the desks we use, the decking we relax on during a lazy Sunday afternoon, the beams in our houses, the fences which guide our favourite walks through the countryside. These are all forest products. However, there seems to be a disconnect from understanding that harvesting and these everyday products are linked and that these sustainable products are sourced by the harvesting of someone’s local woodland. I’m sure there are viable alternatives, but are these options as sustainable as well managed forestry?

Forest operations are designed in their nature to improve the forest and its sustainability. Foresters have a responsibility to try and educate and enlighten people to the wider importance of the forest industry. Saying that, it can be very difficult to change the perception of people who believe they’re are an expert on forestry as opposed to the professional foresters!

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and I look forward to writing the next!


Luke Cross, Assistant Forest Manager

Luke began working in forestry after completing a BSc countryside management degree and MSc in Forest Management at Harper Adams University. He worked for the National Trust for 3 years carrying out motor-manual forestry operations in a lowland woodland.

Luke joined tilhill in june 2018 on to the graduate scheme as an assistant forest manager and is now working towards his professional portfolio and Institute of Chartered Forester accreditation.

With a non-rural background Luke changed careers from plumbing to forestry and feels incredibly lucky to fulfil a life-long ambition to work in forestry.