What ‘rewilding’ really means for forestry and heather moorland | Letters

Plantations are an excellent way to combat climate breakdown, writes Andrew Weatherall, of the National School of Forestry. And Rachel Kerr says heather moorland is rarer than rainforest and the underlying peat is more effective at carbon storage than trees

The Forestry Commission was established 100 years ago to create a “strategic reserve of timber” after Lloyd George stated “Britain had more nearly lost the war for want of timber than of anything else”. The UK is 50% self-sufficient in food, but only 20% self-sufficient in wood, so we still want timber more than anything else.

Any call to redirect subsidies to restore woodlands is welcome (Use farm subsidies to rewild quarter of UK, urges report, 21 May). The Rewilding Britain report states: “Commercial conifer plantations should not be eligible, except where they are removed and replaced with native woodland.” This approach is understandable if the aim is to increase habitat for wildlife. However, plantations are an excellent way to combat climate breakdown, because the growing trees sequester carbon and the forests store it, just like in more natural woodlands, but harvested wood products also provide a carbon substitution effect when used instead of concrete or steel.

The report suggests healthier eating can release land from intensive agriculture, but conversely we should be using more, not less, wood. Any different approach in the way land is managed should include plantations, which can also be native trees to produce timber alongside the restoration and expansion of our most precious ancient semi-natural woodlands. Without this we are dependent on greenhouse gas emissions to import wood.
Dr Andrew Weatherall
National School of Forestry

• I’m a supporter of subsidies to encourage landowners to restore woodlands and meadows, but it’s of concern that Rewilding Britain seems to suggest that it’s OK to plant our heather moorland, as if it’s just sitting there doing nothing. You report that Rebecca Wrigley, its chief executive, said rewilding “did not have to involve an overall reduction in food production” and pointed to “millions of hectares of low-grade agricultural land, much of it in the uplands”. In fact, heather moorland is rarer than rainforest, and the underlying peat is more effective at carbon storage than trees. The UK contains 75% of the world’s remaining heather moorland – with grouse moor estates arguably containing the richest biodiversity – and we need to protect it.

I also take issue with the term “rewilding”, which promulgates the romantic fallacy that all this is somehow going to look after itself.

What is really meant is that landowners will be encouraged to manage the land in a different way. It’s important that the UK’s largely city-based population understands this.
Rachel Kerr
Bradford, West Yorkshire

• Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com

• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters

• Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition


The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
‘It’ll take away our livelihoods’: Welsh farmers on rewilding and carbon markets
Despite attempts to integrate them into moves to tackle the biodiversity crisis, some farmers still feel sidelined and criticised

Tom Levitt

28, Dec, 2021 @11:30 AM

Article image
How livestock grazing is benefiting the planet | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to George Monbiot’s article about the damage caused by organic, pasture-fed beef and lamb


21, Aug, 2022 @4:11 PM

Article image
Make rewilding the focus, not rebuilding | Letter
Letters: The government’s ‘build back better’ plans are focused on environmentally destructive proposals, says Daniel Scharf


20, Sep, 2020 @4:13 PM

Article image
Farming, biodiversity and a heather warning | Letters
Letters: Readers grapple with farming’s aim to become carbon neutral, tree generation as a way to achieve biodiversity, the fate of heather, the Drax power station, and Tesla moving to third place for UK car sales


10, Sep, 2019 @5:04 PM

Article image
Forget fine art: investors urged to put their money into rewilding
A startup is planning to acquire land to rewild, restore biodiversity, store carbon – and make a healthy return

Patrick Barkham

29, Oct, 2021 @6:00 AM

Article image
The Guardian view on saving forests: when trees are at risk, so are we | Editorial
Editorial: Plantations are no replacement for biodiverse forests that have evolved over thousands of years


05, Sep, 2021 @5:25 PM

Article image
Protecting the planet for future generations | Letters
Letters: John Bird outlines his new bill to tackle the climate crisis, academics call for protection of tropical habitats and Ahmad O Al-Khowaiter defends Saudi Aramco’s record. Plus letters from Wiebina Heesterman, Paul Donovan, Sarah Williamson and Siobhan Benita


14, Oct, 2019 @4:59 PM

Article image
Can we humans save ourselves from self-destruction? | Letters
Letters: Richard Middleton, Robin Russell-Jones, Judith Wright, Tom Fyans, Richard Aldwinckle, John Nissen, and Mayer Hillman respond to the latest dire warnings from scientists and policymakers on biodiversity and climate change


07, May, 2019 @4:59 PM

Article image
Rewilding, tree-planting and the cultural heritage of the uplands | Letters
Letters: Readers respond to George Monbiot’s call to restore damaged ecosystems, make a case for tree planting, and say ‘tokenistic’ efforts to reduce carbon footprints should not be scoffed at


27, Sep, 2019 @4:53 PM

Article image
The greenhouse that acts like a beetle and other inventions inspired by nature
For a new generation of innovators, biomimicry – the imitation of nature’s ecosystems – may help solve some of humanity’s toughest resource problems

Bruce Watson

10, Apr, 2016 @3:00 PM