It is quite amazing how time flies by. It seems only a few weeks ago that I was landing in London, having no idea what to expect from my coming experiences. I have learned a lot about UK forestry in the past few months and I hope that this knowledge will be valuable in my career when I return to Canada…though that is not going to be right away.
I have extended my contract with Pryor and Rickett Silviculture for one more month. Although the length of the internship allowed for a valuable glimpse of how forests are managed in the UK, I felt that an additional month would allow enough time to let it sink in and learn that little bit more. With PRS going through a transitions process, it was a mutually beneficial arrangement and they were glad to have me available to take a portion of the workload as things move forward.
I am now working out of the Hereford office three days a week and in the Brampton Brian office twice a week. The change has definitely made things busier, but I am loving the additional experience that I am getting. The forests in Hereford and south are considerably different from those that I have been working in out of the Brampton office. Higher quality oak, an understory that’s denser, and many more pheasants have been the most obvious differences.
As far as work goes, I have been doing more volume assessments for possible woodland purchases and have started building a GIS data for a new client. The coming week has scheduled harvesting supervision and preparing a tenure document for future harvest.
Forestry here has proven to provide one of the features that has drawn me to and kept me interested in forestry in Canada: the diverse experiences that one gets day to day in one’s job. Sharing time between the office and the field gives opportunity to exercise mind and body, enjoy interaction with the outdoors, and develop long-term plans that will modify landscapes to maximize the values that forests provide.
In reflection, the largest differences between Canada and the UK are the scale, the forest values priority and land ownership, and the number of people in the woodlands.
Scale is the most obvious. Working in Canada I monitored a small portion of Alberta Pacific’s (AlPac) harvesting operations, whose Forest Management Agreement area covers 6.37 million hectares (AlPac, 2015), while one of the larger estates that we manage here only has 270 hectares forested area. This large difference, as can be expected, causes some stark differences in how forests are managed.
My impression is that decisions are much more case by case in the UK, whereas in Canada issues are dealt with more often by using standard operating procedures, regulations, and policies. For example, during a site visit here, my co-worker Daniel noticed that one row of trees was not doing well. Upon discussion with another forester, they determined that the poor performance was due to soil compaction and bare mineral soil from tire ruts on the planting site. This information then goes back into management decisions about that particular site. Those trees will be monitored and if they start to die off they will be replaced. We could then ask the contractor to move the trees out of the ruts when replanted. In Alberta this issue is dealt with by setting a target for maximum allowable area that ruts can occur. In Canada, we can afford to have small areas that don’t have trees come back to the desired density. In fact, having a break in stand structure creates diversity in the forest. If ruts became an issue, efforts would be made to reduce their occurrence on a landscape level. In the UK however, establishment failure, even on a small scale, can noticeably reduce final volumes for a forest owner.
Having private forest owners opposed to private firms operating in public forests drastically changes the values that forests are managed for. Here in the UK, the primary management value lies with forest owners. Some are more concerned with environmental values, while others are looking more for the greatest economic return. Forest managers need to try to convince the owners of what they think is best for the forest management, and government often tries to influence management through grant schemes as incentives. All this is in addition to the legislative and best management practices outlined in The UK Forestry Standard. In Canada, legislation is the primary driver that constrains management by foresters, which is further manipulated by stakeholders, lobby groups, and public opinion.
Not all forests in the UK are privately managed. Forests are also directly managed by the Forestry Commission, a government branch that manages 900,000 hectares of forested land for commercial, recreational, and conservational values (Forestry Commission, 2015). Although I have not dealt with the Forestry commission much, it is evident that having such a large government organization operating in commercial forestry has a substantial impact on industry as well as the social benefits that are provided.
Both the differing values and ownership causes different management restrictions. For better or worse, foresters in the UK have a greater variety of tree species that they can plant, while in Canada, public forests can only be planted with native tree species. Large scale management such as connectivity of forests and a variety of forest structures is harder to manage in the UK since the landscape is already so fragmented. Having many private owners makes it hard to coordinate management. In some cases the owner of forests is unknown even by government.
The sheer difference in population is also noticeable in daily operations. Most of the time that I’m out in the field, I end up talking to a member of the public. This is not surprising when one considers that the population density of the UK is 267 people per square kilometre. In comparison, Canada only has 4 people per square kilometre and is the 10th least populated country in the world (The World Bank, 2015). Almost every forest that we manage in the UK has a public foot path or bridle way that allows access to private lands.
Having public access in private woodlands brings its own challenges. I have heard complaints and opinions about everything from damaged gates to harvesting operations. Often people have been walking their dog in the same forest near their house for years. When things change, it is understandable that people might get upset. However, I have noticed a common theme from conversations with forest practitioners in both Canada and the UK. When forest plans are well publicized and explained beforehand, the public is fairly receptive to most management strategies. Clear felling in some of the most public forests in the UK receive almost no complaints, while many will come in about some of the most remote forests because it is not understood and unexpected. I think this goes to show the importance of good PR work in the forest industry.
Touring Windsor Great Park with The Crown Estate forestry team demonstrated the extreme of industrial forestry under the public eye. Close to 3 million people visit this park every year (The Crown Estate, 2015), nearly the same amount estimated to attend all National Parks, Reserves, and National Historic Sites in British Columbia each year (Parks Canada, 2014). The forestry team harvests 12,000 tonnes of timber from the Windsor and Swinley Forests (Crown Estate, 2015) with little public complaint. The high quality mountain biking trails that have been installed around the forest to reduce the damage of ad hoc trail construction demonstrates one of the solutions the team has come up with to solve challenges present in such a forest. Despite all of this, they have still found space to trial alternative management practices that aim to increase insect biodiversity, increase crop tree vigour, and maintain the ancient veteran oak trees that have been growing there for a thousand years.
I am incredibly thankful for being able to have this opportunity to work in the UK. As I think is evident, it has been a great learning opportunity. I look forward to being able to incorporate what I have learned in my future career. I would like to thank all of the groups who have made this award possible: TD Bank, The Duchy of Cornwall staff, Pryor and Rickett Silviculture, the Canadian Institute of Forestry, the Institute of Chartered Foresters, and several more. Special thanks to the hard work of Geraint Richards, from the Duchy of Cornwall, for his involvement in initiating the award as well as his support during the internship, Graham Taylor, from Pryor and Rickett Silviculture, for providing so many learning opportunities as well as time to experience other companies and attend events, and Phil Argyle and Daniel Parsons, also from PRS, for their mentorship and putting up with all of my questions. I would also like to thank His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales for meeting with us and his involvement in the award.
To those who are considering applying, do so. It has been an amazing experience.
Forestry Commission (2015). What we do – how we work. http://forestry.gov.uk/website/forestry.nsf/byunique/INFD-9CCC78#what
AlPac (2015). Forest Management Agreement Area. http://alpac.ca/forest-sustainability/forest-management-agreement-area
The World Bank (2015). Population density (people per sq. km of land area). http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.POP.DNST?order=wbapi_data_value_2014+wbapi_data_value+wbapi_data_value-last&sort=asc