Weeding the forest

What does “mismanaged woodland” mean? It’s very like saying “a weed”. It all depends on what you’re hoping will grow.

Gardeners complain about weeds and go to great lengths to eradicate them. But in other contexts, the very same plants are crops or part of natural, even protected, ecosystems. “A weed” has no botanical meaning. It’s a judgement we make, based on our objectives, plans, and even dreams for the ground in question.

People often talk about “mismanaged woodland” in the same way, often without realising it. It becomes a shorthand for woodland that is neither Ancient Woodland being preserved nor other woodlands being managed to produce timber or coppice products. But again, those are judgements we make.

One symptom of this is that those judgements change, often quite radically. Almost as fashions. Once upon a time, Ancient Woodland with native trees was viewed as “mismanaged” because it wasn’t producing as much commercial timber as grubbing up the trees and planting conifers could. These Plantation on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) are now out of fashion, and clear felling them and replanting with more even-aged conifers is not the “right” kind of management.

For me, preserving and, where possible reviving, Ancient Woodland is the right thing to do because its loss is irreversible. Just as a weed in a garden is indeed a weed. But when we’re talking about planted woodlands that we have already or might create in the future, “mismanagement” always has to be viewed against the objectives we choose.

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