Monday, February 13, 2017

Not seeing the forest for the trees

An interesting article in the Scotsman about the foresty business in Scotland where profit prevails over common-sense.

"...The financial drivers for forestry planting and management over the last few decades in Scotland have resulted in the dominance of one species of tree – the Sitka spruce, which makes up a staggering 70 per cent of the forested areas in this country.

It’s easy to understand why. Forestry developers seeking wealthy investors have plumped for Sitka spruce because it grows quickly and provides a high-quality softwood timber product, felled in as little as 25 years. Solid long-term returns in excess of 12 per cent, which have been largely unaffected by volatile markets ...

However, Sitka spruce is native to the Pacific north-west coast of the US, not Scotland. Add to this a strategy of “clear felling,” where all the trees in a forest planted together are cut down and replaced together, and we have been left with an endemic monoculture habitat that fails to support the natural fauna and flora that a mixed pine forest would. Furthermore, such monocultures can leave a forest susceptible to catastrophic diseases and pest damage, as happened in Thetford forest, which suffered from red band needle blight. If such an occurrence were to happen to Sitka in Scotland, it would spread rapidly and widely with enormous economic and social consequences. A naturally managed mixed forest, including Sitka spruce with native pine species and deciduous trees, would go a long way to redressing the monoculture issues Scotland’s forestry sector faces. Add to this a move away from clear felling to a continuous cover model of forestry, where a canopy is always maintained, would further resolve these issues.

On the down side, this model would deliver diminishing returns, which may be enough to drive wealthy investors away. That’s a shame because the principles and ideology that founded the accord, where countries agreed to support the reforestation of Europe, was really driven by the desire to replant natural mixed and deciduous forests that where once indigenous in Europe and would be ecologically more beneficial.

Sadly, this is a clear case of economic pressures competing against ecological drivers, and at the moment, the former is winning the day."

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