Out of Nature

Out of Nature Sculpture Exhibition

'Transforming Trees, Transforming People'

Posted on November 20, 2017

Record of a panel discussion


On Saturday 14th October a panel discussion took place at Out of Nature as part of the Wind of Change weekend. The subject was ‘Transforming Trees, Transforming People’.

Here is a transcription of some passages very kindly recorded by Brontë Woodruff.

Much of the conversational format was kept and not everything was transcribed; this explains the sometimes haphazard juxtaposition of ideas.

Participants in the discussion included green wood furniture maker and tireless tutor Mike Abbott, and arctic explorer, tree surgeon and sculptor Glenn Morris, both part of the Out of Nature Sculpture Exhibition 2017. 

Also Katie Eastaugh, CEO of The Cartshed, Toby Allen of Say it with Wood,  Rob Penn, journalist and small woodland owner, author of The Man Who Made Things Out Of Trees, and Matt Larsen Daw, Project Leader, Tree Charter for The Woodland Trust.  

Also present and instrumental in organising the discussion was furniture maker, teacher and Out Of Naure exhibitor Gudrun Leitz.

Informed members of the public from various sectors also made contributions to the discussion.

Photo: left to right: Rob Penn, Mike Abbot, Toby Allen, Katie Eastaugh, Matt Larsen Daw, Glenn Morris

Transforming Trees panel discussion

Mike Abbott introduced the weekend, highlighting just how important wood has always been to society...including beech and hornbeam, their natural antiseptic qualities employed as butcher's blocks…how historically forges were often near horse chestnut trees, as they offered shade, both to the horses and to the blacksmith...and how the leaf scars on the horse chestnut were even horseshoe shaped.  

Glenn Morris gave an informative and witty talk about his part in the clear-up job in Sevenoaks after the Great Storm...he was at that time based in the epicentre.

Matt Larsen Daw of The Woodland Trust spoke  of the 1217 Charter of the Forest, and about the 800 year celebration that was celebrated on 6th November at Lincoln Castle.  

You can listen to his words here.

Members of the panel introduced themselves, and their various angles. Various points emerged.  

Rob Penn highlighted the importance of trees, and how there were 45 uses for ash wood, including tool handles, pegs, baseball bats. A BBC programme about restoring old woodland highlighted his concerns, and how the tree has played a huge part in the history of civilisation. How its continuity contrasts with the current greed for immediacy, the new.  

Toby Allen of Say it with Wood highlighted how 50% of UK woodland is quite simply not managed. How there are new ways to use woodland. 

Katie Eastaugh of The Cartshed talked of her time with the Small Woods Association. She described how it was important to make woodland viable, not just for its timber, but for the other benefits it can offer...the now scientifically recognised health benefits, and craft related projects. As CEO of The Cart Shed, she can offer quantifiable justification for the use of woodlands for occupational therapy. 'Transforming Lives' is not just a catchphrase (it is The Cart Shed's motto). The mental health of the nation deteriorated around 150 years ago with mechanisation. People were removed from the land, from their connection with trees, nature. An alarming and increasing number of young people suffer from anxiety, self harming, anorexia.

Matt Larsen Daw confirmed the Woodland Trust's belief in the health benefits of trees...how integral trees are to mental wellbeing. It is now scientifically proven that spending time among trees is beneficial to mental health. Not just the trees, but the whole experience…the peace, the birdsong, the environment...psithurism – the sounds of wind through trees, which fundamentally relaxes the brain. How crime rates are lowered with trees in built up spaces; wood grain in internal spaces has a positive impact. Plastic should be replaced. Wood is important...it is real. Tangible. Natural. A council estate without a tree in sight is soulless. It is diminishing. The presence of trees has a profound and uplifting effect.

Glenn Morris speaks of State of Nature (a report published by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 2016 denouncing the rapid declining of species) in more general terms...with a backdrop of Brexit and nuclear war...it is NOT just trees, there are so many good charities looking after birds, bees, animals etc...but they all need to be linked up...not one of them individually will make a real difference...all these bodies need to join up, talk and act.

A member of the public spoke of too much health and safety...but added that there is a pendulum swing away from protecting kids from danger...kids are now being encouraged to learn how to climb trees safely, use tools safely.

Toby Allen suggested linking in 'Teaching trees' with the curriculum: measuring trees can be part of learning maths, etc...he suggested academic underachievers might be pointed in the direction of trees; he also regretted a lack of schooling outside for kids with real scientific interest.

Glenn Morris pointed out that the Oxford English Dictionary left out hazel, bluebell etc, replacing them with social media and technical terms. [Indeed Jackie Morris eloquently illustrated the subject in her book Lost Words, recently co-published with Robert Macfarlane, and she spoke about it at Out of Nature Sunday 15th October.]

Rob Penn noted the UK was the only country NOT to have a major forest industry. Our woods are in the wrong hands.  

Matt Larsen Daw felt in a sense that this is being addressed in the Tree Charter.

Rob Penn commented that 90% of woods are in family holdings.  

Matt  Larsen Daw suggested career paths are needed to incentivise young people to go out into the woods...there is a huge skills gap...an audit is currently underway. Trees in landscape, not just woods, forests, hedges, roadsides, etc...raising awareness of what opportunities there are. Invisibility of opportunities in this sphere becoming self fulfilling prophecy. (Land management, arboriculture, health and well being, access.)

All woods need to be well managed, but government needs to incentivise management and/or penalise non-management, i.e. make it economically unviable by penalising for irresponsible management/neglect.

Toby Allen commented that big estates, the National Trust, the Woodland Trust, could all be better but aren't doing badly...but generally the under-managed woodlands are the small parcels (50% are small).

Katie Eastaugh remarked that education is important, but specifically focussing on woods/woodland training  is wrong...kids need all – arts, literature, natural world etc, which they are being increasingly deprived of...but they need not necessarily focus on one of them vocationally. This can destroy creativity.

Toby Allen noted that man has been intervening within woodland for 1,000 years. His coppicing, etc, has created light, wildlife has evolved around man managing the habitat.   This encouraged a dynamic habitat: if management stops, woodland is vulnerable to disease. Historically, woodland has provided products, shelter, food, stories...

Rob Penn commented that biodiversity has decreased.

Glenn brought a ray of hope and said a new butterfly species was spotted after the Great Storm of 1987. 

Matt Larsen Daw said that 13, maybe 14, per cent of the UK is woodland, but just 2 per cent is ancient woodland...so planted trees all reach same age together...we need a difference in ages, etc, to create biodiversity. Ancient woodland exists because it was managed, so coppicing is beneficial...maintained woodland is generally airier than modern woodland. Celtic rainforests a rare example of ancient woodland which is as dense and wild as people imagine ancient woodland to be – as opposed to most which are lighter and populated with younger or coppiced trees.

The compartmentalisation of the country into agriculture, forestry, nature reserves etc is NOT sustainable. 

Glenn Morris mentioned wood pasture, and forest farming.

Matt Larsen Daw said the Woodland Trust is facing an issue: it is a struggle to get site managers and to get people trained. The focus has been on minimal management and on public access; the Woodland Trust is now trying to find opportunities for small sites relevant to local areas. E.g. Hill V Woods, Lincolnshire...a social enterprise with one wood manager; diversified into mental health and actively managed. The Woodland Trust aims to increase that in other areas.

There are some exceptions to increased management...in some small ancient woodland  certain species depend on non-management.  

The Woodland Trust is also no longer focussing on increasing the size of their estate, rather they concentrate on advising and facilitating adequate management of existing sites, and make sure that every new tree planted is properly managed.  

Rob Penn notes that the UK is the third largest importer of wood...we need to rebuild native timber industry.

Toby Allen remarks that we haven't evolved the usage of our timber. There needs to be a renaissance of wood culture. 

Glenn Morris said it was a wider problem than wood...nature in general is in decline.  

A member of the public said we need to reconnect with trees. He teaches at Stourbridge: greenwood to 16–25 year olds with autism and special needs...What is needed is to nurture love for trees in our society, and be stewards of the land...not rape and pillage it. To encourage and involve local communities.

Jenny Watt stated Out Of Nature is really about giving the public a reason to be outdoors and take in the sights and the smells. It approaches the situation through pleasure not a stick.

Katie Eastaugh said the Tree Charter has arguments interesting to us here, but 100,000 signatures will only generate debate in Commons. A bigger promotion is needed...people see trees as a threat to property in urban environments. There is a need to change and win hearts and minds. A social media person could tap into public conscience.  

She added that orchards had not been mentioned, nor apples. They are an accessible way in to tree connection.

A member of the public said that connection to land and farming and forestry needs to be made sexy again. For every tractor, 10 people are taken off the land. He suggests redistribution of land with smaller plots to be more economically viable...this applies to both forestry and farming. 

Glenn Morris asked HOW to redistribute land.  ‚Äč

Matt Larsen Daw said that the Wildlife Trust and other land owners can show how woods can be self sustaining. Other large land owners will follow suit. The Wildlife Trust need to be the pioneers of managing the land.

Rob Penn spoke of the National Trust doing good work: forestry has become Scotland's most valuable asset.  

Toby Allen suggests taking woods into cities...because they have not been managed, there are lots of unviable woods...We should put wood products into town people's houses.

Matt Larsen Daw said we can use taxes on  woods: there is a 90% tax reduction on sustainable woodland, so big owners either sort it out themselves, parcel it off to smaller holders to manage, or sell it.

Woodlands need protection. 

We must promote the use of wood, reinforce the 'Grown in Britain' label, to raise profile of wood.

Transforming Trees panel discussion

Transforming Trees panel discussion