When we tick the box saying a woodland provides ‘cultural services’, or offers ‘social benefits’, what do we really mean? Is it about a wood being a place for mountain biking or orienteering? Or can it be about people learning new skills, from creating paths and stiles, to actual forestry? Where does art, storytelling, or sculpture trails fit in? And are ecologists allowed to get cultural benefits from a wood, or should they stick to their wildlife and keep to ‘science’?
A further complication is the ‘here and now’ against ‘the future’. Are we considering what features and resources we want from a woodland now, or people’s desire to use a wood in new ways in future? And what about money, income, and livelihoods – are people able to harness the different attributes of woods in ways that are relevant to circumstances today? Can we harness more products from woods such as timber, food and energy, and still allow recreation to happen and wildlife to flourish? What is the full harvest of a wood, and who could influence it and gain from it more?
Many of us are debating these points in our own circles (and with our own terminology and language) up and down the country, and the Panel offering views to government on the future use of forests will have key things to say in the coming months. And crucially, many practitioners and some communities are making things happen – reviving old practices in woods and discovering new uses, skills and experiences fit for the times. The Woodland Edge event will provide a chance for people to swap notes on these and related matters, as our new forest lore emerges…