Landowners. The Federation of Landowners. The National Farmers' Union (N.F.U.). The Old Boys Network. Freemasons. MI5. The Forestry Commission (F.C.). The Timber Industry. These are the main predatory forces responsible for the destruction of what's left of our natural habitat , Ancient Woods.
The Forestry Commission was set up during the war to ensure that sufficient hardwood was accessed from within Britain since import ships were frequently sunk. Nowadays they serve landowners and boost timber exports. Landowners are viewed as the "Client Base" to whom the F.C. funnels masses of tax payers money under several guises, but generally to encourage the maximum 'release' of timber onto the market.
Our conservation body/corpse is The Scottish Natural Heritage. Yet another useless if not harmful government quango. Which provides a façade of protection while in reality it eases the way for industry past environmental "Restrictions". It is completely powerless and unable to do more than help facilitate compromises which enable landowners to liquidate their 'business assets' with an added touch of greenwash.
Magnus Magnusson (obviously the greatest brain in Britain) helps prop up the establishment by acting as a figurehead for the S.N.H. The Pressmennan campaigners have been privileged to receive Magnus pacifiers in the form of letters applauding our efforts but detailing the landowners' "Legitimate Financial Requirements". Landowners are allowed to make money out of every part of their land no matter what's on it. We challenged Magnus recently with a small community action, protesting at his hypocrisy in unveiling a statue of John Muir.
Government papers repeatedly reassure landowners that environmental legislation will only be applied according to the "VOLUNTARY PRINCIPLE". For a habitat or a species to be legally protected is meaningless in the face of business and our present social power structure. Rich at the top, wildlife at the very bottom. It's not Anti-Humanist to support the underdog , it's instinctive common sense. As our local police pointed out when requested to intervene in defence of Pressmennans large and rare bat populations (Daubenton, Pipistrelle and Longeared): - Any injury to bats or damage to their habitat is merely a "by-product of a business operation" and therefore negligible. Even in European courts , the last legal line of defence , "socio-economic Factors" can override conservation laws.
The head of Britain's F.C., politician and business man David Bills often refers to the "New Forest Standard" in his regular propaganda letters to the press. According to an unexpectedly honest and therefore rare forestry commissioner, this is nothing but a political tool comprising a watered down and even less binding version of the existing completely unrestricting guidelines. The 'standard' is going through its consultation stage with who else but the N.F.U. and the federation of landowners, just in case it does anything other than maintain a steadily increasing flow of financial perks (cunningly bypassing recognised social and natural requirements) to these earth destroyers and exploiters.
Ancient woods are the last surviving fragments of our native Eco-system and habitat. These average in size at a measly 6 Hectares, 60% of which exist on privately owned land. Britain as a whole maintains less than 1% of its original wildwood, East Lothian, the home of Pressmennan , less than 0.1%. The F.C. actively encourages their exploitation with grants such as the recently draughted scheme to "bring previously unmanaged woods under a course of management. This includes as much felling as they can get away with and 'Replanting' with plastic tubes (usually containing Sycamore, i.e. can be harvested quickly)' occasionally carrying out chemical weeding to keep at bay that terrifying beast nature and eradicate the last surviving plants of the murdered forest which lie dormant in the soil.
There is arguable justification for sensitive, sustainable management which includes some felling in commercial, man-made plantations , this is neither, applied, appropriate or necessary for the conservation of ancient woods. The favoured catchphrase used by the F.C. to shut up the masses is "Felling for Regeneration". As if nature couldn't manage before we came along! Particularly the masonic god fearing/god aspiring landowners seem to genuinely believe that nature is inferior, imperfect and exists for mans use, sport and improvement.
Felling for regeneration is the modern term for deforestation. As a member of Broadleaf Resistance in Wales retorted "I wouldn't like to be in a tribe where you kill of the Elders to make way for the next generation!" Elitist pseudo-scientific jargon distances the F.C. from the ignorant and overly emotional public. Woods are accused of having "native flaws", of needing management in the form of mass felling to protect them from "freak weather", and of being dangerously near to roads. One expert claimed that since many of Pressmennans trees were 'twisted', the "correct arboricultural solution" would be to clear fell the entire 6000 year old wood and replant the site with genetically improved stock (in straight lines and plastic tubes of course). They also stated in an interdict (Scottish for injunction) that earth first was "violently opposed to anything practical or useful" , interesting.
Only once the F.C.'s top expert George Peterkin stated the obvious candidly in his "report", did the "felling as treatment" bullshit related to this particular case recede. For the record the relevant quotes are: -
- "The canopy would gradually open naturally and self regeneration would occur".
- "While there are financial benefits, the thinning is of no silvicultural benefit will exasperate windthrow is a high risk management option."
The conservation strategy written by the campaign group with the help of genuinely intelligent and sensitive people including highly qualified foresters was skilfully excluded from meetings, reports and consultations. It did however fulfil all of Peterkins' advice and criteria, it just didn't entail the felling of any ancient trees. All of the local community associations supported our plan.
Often there is an argument for human intervention being useful to compensate for previous negative influences, e.g. the control and gentle restriction of acidic spruces and non-natives which decrease and damage natural diversity. In some cases, scarification and the protection of seedlings counter excessive grazing from unpredated deer, or sheep.
The reintroduction of wild boars would help woodlands infinitely more than any human intervention. These walking woodland regenerators aren't king of the forest for nothing. They scarify, dig and protect as their role in the previously balanced Eco-system. Appreciate and contribute and set us free say the wild boar. They survive very well, even in a modern agriculturally dominated landscape as Pumba, a local bacon butty escapee recently proved. We forget how intelligent and wily these creatures are. (Note wily/wild and creatures/create). Pumba, who escaped when poachers were attempting to steal him, lived happily, healthily, harmlessly and lonely around East Lothian for months. The too romantic and beautiful living legend came to a sudden end with a bullet in the head from a police marksman. He was grazing peacefully in a field with some horses he had befriended.
Wild boar bacon is apparently becoming trendy. Boars are being brought to the edge of the wilderness separated only by a fence. A bit of liberation changing boar's destiny from a bolt in the head to a bolt for freedom would do a lot for conservation, boars and the human spirit.
The main problem with reintroducing wild animals is the lack of potential habitats. Ancient forests are of course the mother of all habitats yet the most aggressively threatened. The rarer the timber, the higher the price, the harder the sawmills try to get their greasy, sleazy little metal hands on it. Two years ago when our campaign began, timber company A & J Scott from Wooperton, Northumberland sent scouts to locate remaining Oakland's in East Lothian. Several farmers were approached and offered around £30,000 for access to their woods. They were advised to hire "Management Consultants" to organise grants and front the operations, thus, A & J Scott's monopoly was concealed. A & J Scott dominate the timber scene on the east coast. They are the only company big enough to afford the most advanced machinery and force small sawmills into dependence, having to buy through them. Most surviving wildwood fragments exist on steep inaccessible slopes. A combine would crash and burn, timber, hard to extract. The technology now exists to enable cost-effective mass extraction, releasing hardwood as GROSS PRODUCT onto the global market.
The timber of several sessile Oakland's was to be shipped in bulk to Germany where the ancient woods are protected. (Oh yeah, F.C. quote , "we view all woods as crops"). Since most of these forests are hidden in valleys, their disappearance goes largely unnoticed until it's too late. Oswald Dene, another ancient woodland was completely clear-cut by A & J Scott. It was on the edge of a main road, so was noticed by shocked commuters, and the F.C. was forced to be seen to do something about it. After media exposure, the F.C. agreed to prosecute. "A small fine" we thought cynically. Worse!! They got off on a technicality claiming no one actually saw them carrying out the illegal felling. Someone (with a bulldozer) may have snuck in and felled the trees under cover of darkness! The case was thrown out and the F.C. seriously scolded for not gathering any evidence, TIDY!
Our ancient woods are so badly neglected that they were quickly labelled as a priority habitat after the Rio summit. A document entitled "Upland Oakwoods: A costed habitat action plan" (C.H.A.P.) was urgently drafted , Britain signed to it. C.H.A.P. outlines targets of protection, expansion and management according to a minimum intervention basis. This implies no unnecessary felling. So C.H.A.P. is ignored, twisted, transformed and unenforced. Seemingly this document can only be empowered when official adopted by local councils. (Something to encourage) then and only then can landowners be legally restricted from felling. Only one council in Scotland has done so, curiously the one which is presently attempting to evict Faslane.
The F.C. claims to account for C.H.A.P. by using the word minimal (instead of minimum) in their guidelines. Felling plans are described as minimal if any trees are left standing. C.H.A.P. also states that if necessary, legislation must be changed/introduced to ensure its enforcement. Landowners must be made to expand and protect ancient forests as part of a much-needed natural zone. The natural zone would be left as wild as possible. A sustainable zone of non-ancient woods can allow for interaction, reconnection, learning crafts and harmonious mutual benefit between man and nature. An intense zone of existing offensive plantations (not ones being restored) can satisfy existing needs while society evolves and eventually grows out of dependency on mass productivity and monocultures.
Since every piece of land and the nature that grows on it is unique, the wildlife evolving and adapting for 13,000 years,:- it is essential that all remaining fragments of our ancient wildwood are recognised as vital cores for biodiversity. Oak trees support more life than any others. Natural life and the sadly disconnected therefore hungry spiritual life of humans have a right to exist and be nurtured. The deforestation of our land and highland clearances to favour sheep twinned with the oppression of our language , Gaelic , were the harshest deathblows dealt by pirates and thieves. Gaelic speaker have no word for and therefore concept of ownership. The alphabet is based upon our native plants and their annual sequence of budding. Children were beaten at school when caught talking their own language.
The druids (oak seers) were no fools when they argued that oakwoods, the sacred groves were the only real teachers they still are. Teachers of harmony, diversity, transformation, living. They provide practical working metaphors for almost everything. Fundamental emotions and clarity of thought can be experienced in such woodlands where life energy is strong and we are as one with the rest of ourselves. Unrestricted by human constructions, geometry, artificial noise and dysfunction, we are centred in our natural habitat. 99% of the life in this country has been destroyed. The land is relentlessly battered, poisoned and abused. Us too, we are painfully disconnected from our roots, and the roots of nature in this country are these tiny, fragile, beautiful forests. Folk have to reconnect, even if it takes art or birdwatching to get them there.
While these wildwood fragments still survive, there is a chance to redress the balance by allowing to return what has been stolen and murdered. The life force exists; it just needs to be liberated. (Loads of farmland has to be set-aside anyway). I'm loathed to say that a start could entail the introduction of grants to encourage expansion and abolition of those, which encourage exploitation. Meanwhile, there's plenty that the individual can do:- get a copy of your local inventory of "Ancient, semi-natural and long-established woodlands" from English nature, S.N.H., whatever. See how many of the registered ancient woods are left and check them out. Identify any that are under threat by checking woodland grant applications (W.G.A's). These can be found by accessing the F.C. internet site or by visiting your local council's planning office, it may help to arm yourself with the "Freedom of information act" leaflet. If large areas of broadleaves are listed for felling in valuable sites, demand a copy of the full W.G.A. from your local F.C. office. Make sure they don't Tippex out vital parts of information (as in their habit), don't believe their propaganda, and prepare to publicly tear it to pieces. Order surveys, offer alternatives, hold the F.C. to their guidelines, then ask the wood what it wants you to do next. If it is privately owned, it will be well nigh impossible to get anything but background support from established conservation bodies, given the political nature of the campaign. They won't risk losing funding or jobs by challenging the establishment. Be wary of those who offer 'professional experience' , they are liable to seriously land you in it at a later date.
Pressure from ramblers groups has led to the introduction of grants to encourage public access in private woods. I have noticed that nearly all the recent W.G.A.'s include funds for creating and maintaining paths. Of course, the public is told nothing and are completely unaware that their taxes are legally gaining access to local beauty spots, many of these paths are probably mythical but should be checked out, publicised and used. The F.C. is a brick wall, so we just have to use and abuse them. Playing stupid or taking no shit are good methods of gaining information. Write everything down and keep dated records.
Our campaign started with great local support, weekly coverage in the local press, petitions, and then adoption by the council. Eventually a tree preservation order was placed in blanket form on the whole wood , we thought we had won. The private sector doesn't like to be told what to do by the riffraff. The ultimate aim was for the permanent protection of Pressmennan with a precedential compulsory purchase order. C.P.O.'s are usually used to build roads, so this would have been a wonderful use of the system. Hopefully somewhere else will manage. The opposition closed ranks and took to using the law as a weapon. Thousands were spent on lawyers, letters, threats; intimidation was flying around targeting whoever they could hit. Eventually the council was nobbled when a key character (their representative) suddenly and mysteriously backed down at a key meeting; this left them liable to huge financial compensation to the farmer for inconvenience and loss of income. The council was humiliated and have been only occasionally bitchy since then.
Sexism, male ego, hidden motives and serious shit stirring eventually caused the original campaign group to disperse. However, individuals continued to campaign and a legal case was compiled, the basis of which was European and British laws which protect rare species (bats) and habitats (oakwoods). Unfortunately, the trust which is meant to be fronting the case are in fact neutralising and restraining its use because they are overly bureaucratic, landowner arse-licking, uninspired, unimaginative, ignorant apathetic wankers who kicked out the only trustee unwilling to compromise the forest (i.e. allow trees to be felled) , the originator of the legal case! Their bigotry can be illustrated in a quote from a member who shall remain nameless "Single women shouldn't be in trusts". Compromising kills campaigns, don't back down!
The camps were great ideas, one for woodland awareness, the other reclaiming common land, both ended in disaster after increasing torment; consequently, neither site is available for use when we really need them. It was difficult to deal with dodgy characters who distracted and diverted the campaign. They refused to work within the organic, "democratic" sharing, attentive, sensitive, positive energy, which was flooding from the wood. (Pressmennan is also on a Leyline). Excessive confrontation, bullying and aggressiveness refusing to leave, trashed the campaign and nearly reduced the mainstayers to a wreck. Much public support was lost during that period unnecessarily. Group agreement and carefull consideration of tactics is vital. As is co-operation. If we have to have another camp, let it work with and the wood.
Post-camps, and after much deliberation it was decided by some that perhaps the least damaging and most certain method of defence was by devaluing the timber. Ceramics are undetectable and break expensive sawmill blades. Apparently, a number of trees were carefully spiked, clear warnings were also marked throughout the wood. The opposition claims to be unperturbed, but the trees are still standing1.
No matter what happens, we've raised masses of awareness, had an education, saved at least hundreds of trees and empowered the local community to the extent that they are becoming more active , finally. Meanwhile, W.A.N.D.'s going to keep doing everything possible to protect Pressmennan, may it expand throughout the valley , and contribute to reforesting the world.
W.A.N.D. booklet including this essay and others out now.
1 Since this article was written in 1997 trees have been felled.
Do or Die