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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