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Woodland Edge

A view from the Forest

A view from the Forest

Simon West, new Head of Forestry at the National Forest Company, reflects about the first couple of months in his new job and how the Forest is looking.

It was with a warm feeling and sense of excitement that I started my first day with the National Forest Company (as Head of Forestry no less – I couldn’t wait to get my business cards sorted). I am loving it so far – the team are a fantastic bunch and although I am still getting to know them, it feels like I’ve been here for ages.

I’ve been spending my first few weeks getting to know some of the amazing characters (landowners and other partners) who have contributed so much to the Forest over the years – people who believe in it, have invested in it and see it going forward from strength to strength into the future. I’ve always wondered about the saying that you need to be an optimist in forestry but it strikes me there are a lot of optimists living and working in the Forest – people who see where it has come from – almost nothing at 6% woodland cover in 1995 to the amazing 19.8% cover now (that’s a lot higher than the national average 13% for England).

In short, the area has been transformed from one of predominantly agriculture and brownfield land to noticeably greener towns and countryside providing more jobs and growth and where more people want to live.

However, there are still significant (if different) challenges as the Forest matures. This includes the impacts of pests and diseases which need to be managed to ensure the Forest remains resilient and realises its potential for delivering quality (whether recreation, wildlife or timber). And it is certainly a challenge to continue to create more woodland with higher land prices and pressure from other land uses, but there still have to be plenty of field corners, odd wet or unproductive areas or to support a diversification opportunity: calling all landowners, please get your thinking caps on!

As we move into our 20th year and third decade, we have lots of woods that are ‘coming of age’ and will need active management of the tree stock:  one of the best things to do to ensure our woods remain resilient is removing some of the poorer and suppressed trees to improve the quality of the woodland and create more options for the future, so don’t be too worried if you hear the sound of chainsaws or see machines removing wood products – this is normal! In addition it creates more jobs for local businesses and (eventually) some income for the owners. In the short term there will be wood to fuel local stoves and boilers.

As part of our woodland management programme we are running a range of courses to help equip woodland owners with the skills to manage their woods effectively: check out our web pages here for more details

It feels like a great time to be here at The National Forest, with so much to go for as the Forest begins its long maturing process, and many opportunities to still help create and shape this inspiring national project. It’s a great place to be!