Letter: Today's alien conifers are tomorrow's much-loved forest

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The Independent Online
Matt Ridley is ill-informed regarding the contribution that forestry makes to our rural economic and social well-being (Letters, 23 June).

Despite the fact that our climate and soils are among the most suited to tree growth in the temperate world, we grow only 9 per cent of our wood requirements and, in contrast to the internationally recommended 35 per cent, trees cover only 15 per cent of our land surface.

Forestry makes a significant contribution to the prevention of rural depopulation. It far exceeds the potential of other upland job opportunities. Mixed farming creates 7 jobs per 1,000 acres, hill sheep farming 1 job per 1,000 acres, grouse moors 1 job per 3-6,000 acres, and forests 9 workers per 1,000 acres.

British forestry has gained professional recognition world-wide and people are finding they like forests, alien conifers and all, as witness the many more people who visit Kielder Forest in the Northumbrian uplands than the bare moorland of the adjacent national park. Eighteenth- and 19th-century Europeans similarly transformed their degraded lands with forests which are now seen as natural. If we have the foresight to plant forests, they will come to be viewed with the same pride. We certainly should not attempt to preserve nonexistent wilderness, in reality degraded upland, once forested.

Since Rio we have heard much about sustainability. This includes the sustainance of productivity. It is unfortunate that some environmentalists resist achieving this, and the biodiversity that has resulted from this century's so-called "blanket planting".

J V Thirgood

Professor Emeritus of Forest Policy, University of British Columbia

Rothbury, Northumberland