Wednesday, 26 January 2011

What's the difference between a wood and a forest?

What's the difference between a wood and a forest?

The origins of the words give a clue.... wood is derived from Old English, while forest is a Frankish word that came to Britain with the Normans and which included any wild area, not necessarily tree-covered.

As the Norman nobility were more concerned with hunting than the more mundane aspects of life, the word forest was applied to lands appropriated for this pastime but not for generally smaller woods that would have been used by the Anglo-Saxons for fuel, timber, pasture etc.

In East Kent, therefore, would Lyminge Forest have been owned by a Norman warrior, whereas Blean Woods, although larger, were not generally used by nobility for hunting and so retained the other name? Both Lambarde (1570) and Hasted (1778) wrote that by then there were no forests of protected hunting land in Kent, however.
Much of the Blean, extending in an arc from east to west of Canterbury, was owned by the Archbishop, Christ Church and other clerical houses, and is described well in a book The Blean, The Woodlands of a Cathedral City. It argues that, contrary to popular opinion, most of the countryside structure that we see today was already in place before the Romans arrived. Earlier settlers had cleared most of the areas that are now farmed, and had discarded unproductive land where now the woods and forests grow, and where slow-growing plants like Butcher's Broom confirm their age.
The Blean lies on poor soil which not only does not support arable crops, but also grows relatively poor trees, better for the underwood for fuel than standard trees for building, as they rarely grow straight and true.

The remains of ditches and hedges that were set up to mark ownership and rental, and to keep deer out, are still to be seen in places - below is a grown-out laid hedge in The Blean....
.... and at Lyminge the Forestry Commission's conifers are edged by coppiced beeches.
So who owns the woods and forests? In England, 80% is owned privately or by charities (including the Woodland Trust, RSPB etc), some better managed than others, and with varying degrees of access. The remaining 20% is owned by the Forestry Commission which was set up in 1919 with a wide brief to manage the land - and to increase timber production at minimum cost to the taxpayer which led to the damaging policy of increasing the amount of non-native conifer plantations that are now environmental deserts. Consequently Lyminge Forest looks more "foresty" with high densities of softwoods, while the Blean retains its English woodland image with mostly broad-leaved trees.

Now that biodiversity is higher on the list of the Commission's priorities, the price of timber and other wood products has fallen so that the cost to the taxpayer is £64m per year, according to the latest accounts. This is presumably due for the chop, to be axed, to be cut down (chose your own headline-grabbing metaphor) and large parts are for sale.

Last October, a press officer for the Forestry Commission vehemently denied Lyminge Forest would be sold. She said: "It isn't under consideration for sale - it's not true at all."

That's OK then. We won't need to call Swampy back to defend it again.


Warren Baker said...

They are liars, the lot of 'em.

That grown out layed hedge is fascinating steve, must be well old.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,
You may have seen this but in case you haven't here is the map which shows that Lyminge Forest, Covert Wood, Denge Wood, Clowes Wood and King's Wood have been designated today as 'small commercial forests'. This seems to mean that they will be first offered to buy or lease at market value to so called 'community and civil society groups' and, if no offer is forthcoming then will be leased for 150 years on the open market.
Quite what a 'community or civil society group' is doesn't seem to be clear - this seem like very wishful thinking to me! Also, considering that all of these woods remain very rich for wildlife, and clearly offer high public benefits (not low or medium as mentioned in the description of small commercial forests), I think there is a very strong argument that they should be designated as 'heritage forests' whereby they would be offered to charities such as the woodland trust, KWT, RSPB etc at no cost, and with the promise of government funding for their maintenance.
I very much enjoy reading your blog,
Best wishes,
Alfred Gay

Greenie said...

Steve ,
A most interesting post as usual .
At the moment , I don't know what to believe from what I have read .
As for the layed hedge , I don't recognise it as one of mine !

Kingsdowner said...

Warren, shame that Fred can't remember laying that hedge.... his memory must be going.

This issue has been unclear from the start, and the publication of the consultation document hasn't made it any clearer (even those who should know can't agree on whether DEFRA contributes £10m or £60+m pa).

Thanks for the links Alf, it's good to know you still pass by! The Forestry Commission website has always underperformed, so at least we can now see a map of its responsibilities.

"Any community or civil society group would be free to manage the forest in accordance with their own objectives"

I assume "community or civil groups" points to groups like the Elham Conservation Society, and I assume than few such groups will have much money to spare. But we gave you the chance and you didn't take it, so we're selling it to xxxx instead

I've got a fiver so if anyone wants to chip in...?