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Olduvai III: Catacylsm
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Making Local Woods Work

The Forestry Commission estimates that 47% of England’s woodlands are unmanaged. If you like to think of woods as wild places and flinch at the idea of a tree being felled, then you might consider this a good thing. But woodlands, at least in this country, need management.

Whilst truly wild woodlands are ‘climax vegetation’ that has achieved a balance between death and renewal, these generally need to be at a scale much bigger than any of our remaining woodlands to thrive independently of humans.

Here in Britain, “the wildwood” has a central place in our culture and imaginations, but the reality is that active management has shaped our woodlands since the ice age, providing supplies of food, fuel and timber, and creating diverse habitats amongst the trees. Unmanaged woodland lacks diversity and can result in poor tree health and increase the spread of tree diseases.

Whilst most of that unmanaged woodland is in private ownership, the future management of our public forest estate also remains uncertain. Attempts in 2010 to sell off the national forest estate were abandoned in the face of a public outcry, but austerity has resulted in many local authority woodland teams being disbanded and the future for the management of the national public forest estate – at least in England – remains unclear.

It is in that gap between the market and the state that we find the commons and, increasingly, a diverse range of community businesses, co-operatives and other forms of social enterprise creating value and livelihoods from its management. So does social and community business have a role in reinvigorating our woods and forests and rebuilding our woodland culture?

In 2012, in the aftermath of the failed forestry sell off and in the wake of the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report, a number of organisations came together to discuss alternative approaches to the management of our woods and forests.

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Fearless Cities

Fear and uncertainty seem to have settled into our societies, not only among citizens, but also political leaders and transnational corporations who see their capitals and centres of power stagger in the face of the combined effects of slowing global economic growth, imminent energy decline and increasing climate chaos. In this context, we are  witnessing a multitude of responses, with three approaches that stand out.

The first response attempts to regain control and security through new forms of authoritarianism and protectionism. We’ve seen the return of the nation state as a reaction to global capitalism, the re-emergence of national and cultural identity, and a revival of racist and xenophobic discourses.

The second response, fuelled by techno-optimism, sees no limit to our capacity to invent our way out of global crisis through what has been described as a ‘fourth industrial revolution’. This approach is advocated by organisations such as the World Economic Forum, along with  a multitude of transnational corporations, financial powers and governments. Following a competitive logic, it suggests that individuals and societies that are better technologically adapted will prosper, whilst others will be left behind.

The third response sees neighborhoods, towns and cities around the world emerge as the place to defend human rights, democracy and the common good. Neighbours and citizens are uniting in solidarity networks to address pressing global challenges, from access to housing and basic services to climate change and the refugee crisis. This new municipalist movement seeks to build counter power from the bottom up, challenging the dominance of the nation state and capitalist markets, putting power back into the hands of people.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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