What is it about woodland that has made it become so popular in recent years? It never used to match the price of agricultural land – and was often barely half its price. Nowadays it frequently makes the same money although perhaps this is only applicable to small parcels of woodland – big blocks of commercial forestry are relatively cheaper, their value being based on the timber crop growing on the land. Small areas – those maybe up to 20 acres – have much to attract buyers. The charm of a spinney is mainly its amenity, of course – the joy of walking through the wood, for exercise (two-legged or four-) and the fresh air and space. And woodland wildlife is another draw. Then there is the sheer variety of plants: we have a wide diversity of trees in this country both coniferous and deciduous, influenced by the soils underneath. Their range of colours through the seasons is a sight to behold. Below them come the smaller plants – holly, hazel, lonicera and even brambles. On the forest floor are many wild flowers: primroses, bluebells, anemones, even wild garlic, fungi and truffles.
Some people will enjoy the sporting rights, hopefully in the best country spirit. Even if one is not seeking a bird for dinner, there is always the need to control pests – squirrels, for example, can cause lasting damage to trees. A well-balanced management programme will enhance a piece of woodland in all respects, including the habitat it provides its for wild creatures. There is currently plenty of media comment encouraging tree planting to help to combat global warming and 'save the planet'. ‘Every little helps’ as the saying goes. Personally, I think afforestation will need to be on such a large scale that the level of financial encouragement given to landowners will not on its own have the desired effect. But trees do enhance the landscape and despite being a long-term project (it can take 50 -100 years for a tree to reach maturity), any planting must be beneficial. Many landowners put in new plantations voluntarily, so again I am not convinced that providing a grant-based system of support (with its associated limits and regulations) may prove to be the best way forward.
The commercial value of piece of woodland’s ‘crop’ is often merely a by-product, at least for most parts of the UK. Other countries have greater opportunities – mainly because of the topography, and then the larger scale, and lower costs of production which enables their forestry to be more profitable. The demand for timber has declined noticeably in recent years; less of it is needed for the making of paper, pit props (!) and even matches (especially with the policies that deter smoking) – and nowadays it’s hardly every used for building a ship...! Furniture-making uses more modern, light materials so traditional timber items have become a increasingly only a ‘made to measure’ commodity. Natural wood tends to be something one may use only for chic sculptures and small-scale arts-and-crafts industries. Even so, most of us retain a fascination and love of trees and woodland; maybe, as so many other facets of our lives change and evolve, so also will the prospects for and development of woodland across the land. We may not live to see the mature results but our descendants will, and they should applaud the vision and investment made for the future – just as we who are alive now have been grateful to those who gave us the special scenery which surrounds us today.