A day (or two) in the life of a Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committee Chair

Dr Hilary Allison MICFor

Chartered Forester Dr Hilary Allison MICFor, Chair of the Forestry Commission’s East England Midlands Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committee, talks about the roles of the Forestry Commission’s East Midlands Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committees.

“I’m having a forestry day tomorrow,” I tell my staff as I prepare to head out to the woods.  The contrast from my full time day job of working in the field of international biodiversity conservation with the periodic opportunity to get to grip with the specifics of forestry in a corner of England is refreshing.

I’m off to join 12 highly motivated members of the Forestry Commission’s East Midlands Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committee (FWAC) to chair one of our bi-annual meetings. This time we are meeting in Lincolnshire to discuss tree health.

One of the less well known dusty corners of the Forestry Act of 1967 was the requirement to establish a series of regional advisory committees. Times and circumstances have changed greatly since the 1960s but the committees remain, embedding stakeholder engagement neatly into the structures of the Commission in a way that is relatively unusual for government departments and executive agencies.

In 2013 the remit of the FWACs in England was refreshed and the remit of the nine regional committees is to

  • Advocate and champion forestry interests and partnerships providing independent insight into local needs and priorities
  • Provide advice, expertise and challenge on the application of national policies locally and  of local priorities into national programmes
  • Develop strong local connections and networks to enhance synergies across the diverse forest and woodland sector, including the public forest estate
  • Conciliate in disputed applications for grant aid, felling licences, or approval of forest plans

Our agendas are partly driven by issues on which the FC seeks advice and partly by the members. Over the past three years since I have been Chair, much time has been spent on discussions on the Rural Development Programme funded forestry grant schemes especially Countryside Stewardship, but we have also looked in depth at community forestry and forest-based social enterprise, natural capital concepts,  Local Enterprise Partnerships,  the public forest estate business model , and alignment of Forestry Commission, Natural England and Environment Agency planning as well as more practical issues as the Forestry Commission’s squirrel policy, and management of tree disease.

A few months earlier I attend a meeting of all nine FWAC Chairs with senior Forestry Commission staff. The Commission takes the FWAC Chairs views very seriously and as a group we are privileged have a high level meeting with the Chair of the Commission, the Head of Forest Services and the Head of Forest Enterprise England twice a year. This time our meeting agenda includes a discussion on the recent EFRA Select Committee report on forestry in England including EU exit priorities for forestry and Forest Enterprise England’s new Strategic Framework.  The meetings are open, thought provoking , candid and valued by all.

The nine FWAC Chairs are a energetic and diverse group of professionals, not all of whom  currently  work in forestry full or even part time but all of whom have experience of forestry in all its dimensions, social, environmental and economic.

The Chairs  summarise their work of their Committee annually in a report to the Forstry Commission and  the latest 2016/2017 report can be found here https://www.forestry.gov.uk/england-rac. It makes a good read with plenty of analysis of the current challenges facing the sector as well as examples of good practice.

Do these Committees make a difference? In short yes – it gives the Forestry Commission instant access to a valuable network over 100 woodland experts who are always prepared to provide views, perspectives and advice to support and sometimes challenge the Commission.   Other government bodies could do well to emulate this arrangement.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute of Chartered Foresters. 

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