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Summary of woodland conference at Oxford University

posted on December 2, 2013

2013 – An Extraordinary Year for England’s Woodlands

Sylva’s day course, run in association with the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford, attracted some 35 delegates on Saturday.

Attendees heard how England’s woodlands have provided for mankind’s needs for many centuries, leading to a strong culture of appreciating and using wood, yet in recent decades the care and management of England’s woodlands has declined.  With unprecedented threats from environmental change, pests and diseases, the sustainable management of our woodlands need to be embraced as part of a revitalised wood culture for the 21st Century.

There were some changes in the advertised programme, with two speakers having to pull out for personal reasons, however the alternative speakers provided excellent presentations.

Robin Buxton talk

Robin Buxton talk

The day was introduced by Robin Buxton who provided the evolutionary and global context for the day’s talks. He demonstrated the need to get the balance right between economic and ecological needs, drawing especially upon his experiences of working in Africa.

Gabriel Hemery talk

Gabriel Hemery talk

Gabriel Hemery provided a history of our trees from 1000 A.D. and how they have supported civilisation in this country. His presentation made us think about our intrinsic views and values of nature and how they relate to the trees and woodlands around us.

Alistair Yeomans talk

Alistair Yeomans talk

Alistair Yeomans provided an overview of a what a ‘wood culture’ means and how the forestry community can consider communicating this to wider society. He continued to give an overview of the evolving world of Corporate Social Responsibility and described to the audience the Good Woods project that the Sylva Foundation is currently carrying out with B&Q, BioRegional and Lantern. Alistair presented Dr Derek Nicholls from the Department of Land Economy, University of Cambridge, with a limited edition portrait of the OneOak tree (available to purchase from our online shop) as a token of appreciation for his support in collaborating with Sylva staff in the British Woodlands 2012 survey.

Robert Penn talk

Robert Penn talk

Rob Penn described eloquently the fun and challenges of woodland management. He talked about the making of the BBC4 programme Tales from the Wildwood and its popularity which surprised TV executives. He introduced his latest project following the life of an ash tree, describing meetings with hurley stick makers, furniture makers and wheelwrights. His work literally brings forestry to life by focussing on the many products that we all use and love – introducing sustainable forest management to a general public audience.

Oxford Researchers talks

Oxford Researchers talks

Louise Hill and Jessica Needham reported on the revival of temperate forestry activity at Oxford University. It was great to hear from the new cohort of forest researchers, both Sylva scholars and otherwise. Their talks exemplified the need and importance for sound research that we can convert into effective policy. Both their DPhil research projects are associated with Chalara ash dieback: Louise dealing with the consequences of the disease of ecosystem services such as carbon and biodiversity, Jessica focussing on the pathogen responsible. Their efforts are needed now, more than ever and it was reassuring that forestry research is in such intelligent, dedicated hands.

The New Sylva talk - Gabriel Hemery

The New Sylva talk – Gabriel Hemery

Gabriel Hemery returned to the floor to talk about the making of The New Sylva to be published by Bloomsbury in 2014. This perhaps will be the most visually compelling version of a wood culture. One that will reach far beyond the forest. It further builds on a tremendous legacy of forestry and woodland appreciation in this country.

Throughout the day delegates were introduced to many examples of agents for change; these took the form of books, art, television, research and web technology. It is such vehicles that are needed to infuse the importance of trees and woodlands into the heart of society. Hopefully all of these efforts will contribute to the wood culture that will shape a future where society cares for our tree and woodland resources in the best way possible.

We thank all of the speakers and the delegates for participating in some great debates and question sessions. Perhaps the notion of a wood culture was epitomised by a discussion between two delegates: one a woodland owner about the difficulties of communicating positively to members of the public about their management activities, the other a house owner who asked how she could be better informed about woodland management beyond her back garden.


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