Here Norman Dandy, Project Manager at Making Local Woods Work, explains how the Making Local Woods Work partnership is important for promoting jobs and helping to create a thriving forestry sector, and the important role that the Tree Charter will play in promoting forest livelihoods in the future.
At the time of the 1217 Charter, forests were central to the livelihoods of most if not all of the population of Britain. In an age before cheap plastics, and when other materials such as metal and stone were affordable mainly only to the rich, wood and other forest products were critical materials that were transformed into everyday products by a plethora of workers. Consequently, it is important to understand that the access to forests afforded by the 13th century Charter was important not only in terms of freedom, rights and liberty, but also because it was an act that gave back access to resources that people needed to make a living and participate in local economies.
Today fewer livelihoods are linked so directly to Britain’s forests. Official figures state that around 25,000 people are employed in the forest and timber industry in Scotland, and up to 80,000 in the UK as a whole (the way Scot, Eng and Wales do employment statistics is all slightly different). This can and should be more. One of the Principles of the Charter for Trees, Woods and People is “A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK”. The Making Local Woods Work partnership project is seeking to play its role in achieving this by growing confidence and capacity amongst woodland social enterprises. We are pleased to have the support of the Woodland Trust within this partnership which is led by Plunkett Foundation.
Woodland social enterprises produce numerous good and services from trees, woods and forests and consequently support many diverse livelihoods to which forests are central: educationalists, therapists, foresters, administrators, crafts-people, artists, play specialists, builders, coppice workers, designers, fuel-sellers, and many more. They offer unique opportunities to illustrate that woodlands can be economically ‘productive’ in many ways. This can play a part in moving us beyond the unhelpful ‘preservation’ verses ‘exploitation’ debate that commonly raises its head in discussions of woodland management. Social enterprises can use forests and forest products to generate many fruitful connections between local communities and their local economies.
Whilst we may not consider that these varied livelihoods should all contribute to official ‘forestry’ employment figures, we can likely all agree that it demonstrates that forests are critical to many livelihoods beyond these ‘official’ estimates. Social enterprises themselves need to play a stronger role in communicating their contribution to the sector – and some simple steps can be taken. For example, one reason they are largely missed from ‘official’ forestry employment figures is because very few woodland social enterprises adopt the silviculture or forestry SIC codes on which governmental business surveys are based. Instead only choosing codes relating to other work such as education or wellbeing, or even waste collection.
Making Local Woods Work is currently working with more than fifty woodland social enterprises, providing them with direct advisory support, networking and training opportunities, and access to other resources. Woodland social enterprise holds huge potential for growth in forest-related employment and for achieving the ‘thriving’ and resilient sector that we all want to see.
The Charter for Trees, Woods and People will guide society towards a future in which trees and people stand stronger together. Help give it strength: Sign the Tree Charter
A thriving forestry sector that delivers for the UK