Cambrian Wildwood meets Natural Resources Wales
A meeting with Natural Resources Wales to discuss the potential for Cambrian Wildwood on the public forestry estate provides a framework for future work together.
In November, Simon met with Jim Ralph, Ceredigion team leader for Natural Resources Wales (NRW), to discuss how Cambrian Wildwood might operate in the public forest estate at Cwm Einion and Nant y Moch. Jim was not enthusiastic about our proposals, but willing to talk at least, and he offered frameworks for how we might progress our ideas in future. Our proposals are broadly: restoring the conifer plantations to native habitats, especially native woodland; restoring wildlife, including species reintroductions; public access, in the form of trials, camping places and organised activities.
One thing that Jim referred to was that the landowner is Welsh Government, and that NRW as land manager has to do what the owner decides. At present, NRW is being told to grow Sitka spruce. This might imply that we need to talk to Welsh Government, however in practice they refer to NRW for advice, and it is important for us to develop the relationship with NRW.
Jim expressed a fairly narrow view of the role of the forest – to produce commercial timber – and limited accounting of the public benefits – income from timber sales. In this context he stated that if NRW adapted management of the land according to our ideas, for example transforming to native woodland or heathland, then we would need to compensate NRW for the loss of income from timber, a net of £8,000 per hectare every 35 years. Any formal proposals we produce will therefore need to factor in and attempt to cost the other public benefits that our project will provide: for example water storage, water quality, carbon storage, wildlife and public access.
Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust is developing methods for accounting for these benefits – often referred to as ‘ecosystem services’. They have also extended the scope of their Pumlumon Project beyond the Pumlumon SSSI, as far north as the Dyfi, in other words embracing the Cambrian Wildwood area. This was the area suggested by Simon for the Pumlumon Project in its formative stage, before the Cambrian Wildwood project was initiated. This is a very welcome development and provides a context for our two charities to work in partnership. We are hoping to meet with Clive Faulkner of MWT soon.
Back to the meeting with NRW, regarding the public access ideas, there is already a trail open following a Public Bridleway. As for camping and activities, and further trails, the plantation forest is not a very suitable setting for these, so this is something for the future after the process of habitat restoration has at least started.
Regarding species reintroductions, this forest area will be the release site for pine marten next autumn, part of the Vincent Wildlife Trust Pine Marten Recovery Project. The first species reintroduction we want to look into is red squirrel. This proposal depends on whether the pine marten has an effect on reducing grey squirrel numbers. So a project for the future.
With regards to habitat restoration, it was frustrating to be standing at the end of the forestry looking towards Cefn Coch, the piece of land that we are raising money to buy, over some recently planted spruce. 10 years ago the Forestry Commission (FC) forester had agreed to a proposal presented by Simon, along with Countryside Council for Wales and John Muir Trust, to restore this area to heathland after the felling of the existing stand. Following the felling about 2 years later, it seemed that it was going as planned, until a couple of years after that it became obvious that the site had been planted with spruce. It demonstrates how you have to be really on the case with government bodies – and there wasn’t even a staff change in this case!
What is interesting, is that the heathland vegetation has recovered very rapidly providing a diverse upland habitat. The only problem being that it is hosting several thousand young spruce trees. Jim suggested that Cambrian Wildwood could remove the spruce if we paid the restocking costs already expended at £2,000 per hectare. But he also said he would not allow this to happen until we had bought Cefn Coch, the reason being that the continuity of the heathland between the two neighbouring SSSIs would still be interrupted by Cefn Coch and until we buy it we can’t be sure it will be put into conservation management.
Which brings us to the restoration of native woodland. FC/NRW have carried out conversion of plantation forest to native woodland over a fairly wide area further down the valley. Most of this is natural colonisation of birch following clear felling, and is providing a greatly improved landscape and area for wildlife. Jim is not prepared to continue the process higher up because the forest land is interrupted by a big open hillside, owned by Robert Plant. Again the interruption of habitat continuity is not favouring transformation to native woodland beyond this open land. We have since approached Robert with an outline proposal for creating native woodland on this area.
In conclusion, it is important for us to buy a piece of land, and preferably the piece currently on the market next to the public forestry. Not only will this release opportunities for Cambrian Wildwood on the public land, but it will also demonstrate the concept of large-scale wild woodlands. This will help to grow the project, both in land area and in our ability to share with people the wonders of wild nature.
I have previously been a financial supporter of your project, and have previously raised the issue of your evident anti-conifer bias.
Sitka Spruce are grown in Wales, because they grow well, and produce reasonable timber, quickly and in generally poor conditions.
The timber they produce is used for a variety of purposes from construction, to fences, pallets and chipboard.
Since 2000, Wales has lost 18,000 hectares of productive conifer woodland. Data from
Undoubtedly some of this was conifers planted in the wrong place, on deep peat or in riparian zones. However most was not, large areas have been felled for wind-farms or to create open ground or to be replaced with “native trees”.
The UK is the 3rd largest nett importer of timber in the World, and 90% of that timber is softwood from conifer forests. Every hectare of conifer forestry that is lost in Wales, is a hectare of timber that has to be imported. Assuming Yield Class 12 – 14, that 18,000 hectares would support at least one average sized Welsh sawmills. Instead we have simply off-shored that production, those jobs and our moral responsibility for our timber footprint.
The UK has a housing crises, requiring tens of thousands of new homes to be built each year; we could be building them from locally produced sustainable softwood timber. However because the UK only has 12% woodland cover, compared to 36% like the rest of Europe, most of that timber will be imported. This not only has a negative economic impact on the UK but also an environmental one using lots of carbon to transport a low value product, which could be grown here.
I am very pleased to read that NRW declined your offer to export more production, and to further undermine the supply of raw materials to Welsh sawmills.
We need a lot more woodland of all types – scrub, native and high performing intensively managed softwood plantations.
Wales is 88% open ground, there is lots of scope for you to create many hectares of new native woodland, and in areas where it is urgently required.
The UK and the rest of the planet, needs a lot more well managed plantations, producing timber to reduce the pressure on native forests and to replace non-renewable material such as steel and concrete. Its not just me that thinks this – so does WWF – http://www.worldwildlife.org/publications/wwf-s-living-forest-report-chapter-4-forests-and-wood-products
Whilst i am sure your intentions are well meaning, i suggest that you take a slightly wider view of sustainability, and that it includes social and economic reality, not just a a very narrowly focused view of environmental issues.
Andrew, thank you for your comment, it’s good to hear from you. And thank you for your support for our work.
The charity tries to avoid taking a position on policy, not least as this can be a distraction from our core work. We are focused primarily on establishing a large area of wildwood – that is native habitats with as much wildlife as feasible. We are not anti conifer any more than we are anti sheep. Our premise is that at least one part of Wales can be taken out of productive use and restored for wildlife. Other countries, much poorer than us, are expected to preserve their wildlife and wild areas. Here in Britain we have not been successful at doing this, even designated nature areas are subject to productive exploitation, but we can always make amends by restoring land for wildlife. Countries with real poverty preserve wildlife areas, for example Costa Rica 27% and Peru 19%. The 7,000 acres we propose for Cambrian Wildwood represents 0.0014% of the land area of Wales. Interestingly, we have received a similar comment from a farmer who suggests we leave open land and concentrate our restoration work on conifer plantations. In short, wherever a project of this scale is located, it will embrace existing pasture and plantation forestry. There are many factors pointing to the suitability of the project area, one of which is that it is in Dyfi Biosphere – if the Biosphere is to have any significance it needs to include a significant area for nature. Finally, the concept of multi-purpose forestry, where timber production is combined with nature and recreation on the same area, is now well established in UK forestry practice. My guess is that whatever relationship Cambrian Wildwood has with NRW on management of the public forest over the long term, there will remain an element of timber production from conifers, and may also be production of wood fuel, for example, from native trees.
Responding personally, I entirely agree with your analysis of the need for more timber to be grown in UK. It doesn’t change my view that there is also a requirement for some wild land. I note from a report by Confor that, before subsidies, forestry in the Welsh uplands makes money compared to sheep farming which loses money, which points to forestry as a more rational productive land use. Flooding is a major issue and related to land management, where forestry has more potential for resolving the problems around retaining water in the hills. I fully support Welsh Government policy to increase the area of woodland in Wales by 100,000 hectares, whether productive or for nature, and I am sure that the other charity trustees would agree with me.
First of all if you want to explain how your narative is not just narrowly focused on economic returns… I missed that bit.
why would you be so damning on such a tiny movement wishing to plant a small valley with some local trees as a base line for further investigation?
Is it because twenty years in forestry has perverted your value of forests to simply a source of income and at that one that can only be obtained by monoculture?
If you want to plant more spruce trees and save the British building industry go and face off with the Welsh highland sheep farmers rather than picking on a small conservation movement. Let’s get to the real ‘root’ of the problem.
Amazed at your ignorance.
Upland land use policy across Britain is an absolute shambles and has been for centuries. The environmental destruction, through deforestation and the proliferation of hill sheep must be redressed as a matter of urgency.
All of upland Britain should be reforested and rewilded according to specific site conditions, incorporating native woodland, quality mixed forest where access allows, for commercial production and biodiversity. Threats posed by climate change alone, should be enough of a reason to make this happen.
The era of subsidised hill farming must end, with all domestic livestock removed from upland areas and brought down the hill.
Native wildlife should be reintroduced and encouraged wherever possible. Deer need management, but not annihilation through shoot on site policies, endemic persecution and disturbance. Native Red and Roe Deer are roe colonising Wales but cannot establish viable, visible populations, because they are being decimated by public employees and private individuals alike, because they are deemed incompatible with with the tree farming mentality and the vast majority of farmers in general.
The formation of NRW is bad news for forestry in Wales. They have become a grey, faceless organisation, jumping to the tune of an urban orientated Welsh Government. They favour large contractors over small local businesses, because it means less admin for them. This just perpetuates the tree farming culture, lack of imagination, and general pattern of land use in Wales. Bring Bach a dedicated Wales Forest Service.
Get rid of Hill farming and the Grouse Moors, and replace it all with vast quality mixed forest and wilderness. Bring back the Lynx and the Beaver. In the long run that would be much better for biodiversity, climate change, tourism and rural employment.