Opinion: Work on Raincliffe Woods will preserve it

Raincliffe Woods, where the Woodlands Trust is carrying out work.
Raincliffe Woods, where the Woodlands Trust is carrying out work.

I was born in Scarborough in 1960 and I’ve lived in the area all of my life. I did the felling in Raincliffe woods last October. I’ve had to watch and listen to all the rubbish that’s been peddled as fact ever since. I’ve suffered attacks on Facebook; financial information being divulged, albeit incorrectly, online, and, of course, there were the occasional verbal assaults we were subjected to on site last year.

I have no issue with people who want to make their feelings known. I’ve worked in forestry for 30 more years and I’ve seen everything, or at least I thought I had until we started work at Raincliffe.

What I find most galling is supposition being stated as fact; the use of outrageous and emotive language for effect, and the blocking on Facebook groups of people who could offer information in response to complaints that no one would answer questions.

For those of you who are interested, here are some facts about forestry in general and Raincliffe in particular.

European larch is not disease resistant. This is probably the most worrying piece of misinformation being held up as fact. P Ramorum affects Japanese larch, hybrid larch and European larch equally, it has no preference. More than 80 per cent of the larch in Raincliffe is either hybrid or Japanese, regardless of what it says on Facebook.

The Woodland Trust has carried out all the planning, mapping, arranging of felling licences and all the other administration work for free, yet they are accused of being in it purely for profit.

I did the work in Raincliffe at a rate that was 20 per cent less than the job I moved from on Londsboro estate and 15 per cent less than the job I went to after Raincliffe.

Raincliffe is vulnerable because it contains so much larch that will, at some point in the not too distant future, become infected with P Ramorum. I sincerely hope it doesn’t but having seen what has happened to the larch in Wales and Scotland I’m afraid it’s almost inevitable.

It is also problematic that most of the plantings in Raincliffe are of a very similar age. Healthy woods with a vibrant eco system need to have a mix of ages and species. I have no problem leaving Raincliffe with some softwoods in place. Diversity is good for wildlife, however it is achieved.

Thinning will increase wildlife in Raincliffe. More light will increase ground flora that will increase the food supply and bring more, not less, animals into the woods. The dead trees we have left standing are a good example, without standing deadwood Raincliffe would not have Woodpeckers. I don’t need to make outrageous claims about any of this. I’ve seen it all before and I know how neglected woodland responds to good management.

Growing trees lock up more carbon, produce more oxygen and ‘drink’ more water than mature tees. The idea that Raincliffe is a flood barrier is so silly it doesn’t warrant consideration.

People walking in Raincliffe now will be noticing new footbridges appearing, paths are being cleared and more will be invested to improve access for walkers. This is all through the efforts of dedicated volunteers but it is being made possible because a substantial amount of money from last year’s felling is going back into the woods.

There is something else I notice none of the critics mention and that is the fact that grant money follows management. Without the Woodland Trust’s intervention and the thinning work already carried out there would be no funding available. Councils are not able to access grant funding.

Raincliffe is not ancient woodland, again an oft repeated erroneous statement. Some small areas are but overall it is classified as PAWS (planted ancient woodland site). This means it was planted at some point in the not too distant past, mostly in the mid 1950s in this case.

I’m not going to deny the thinning we did was a shock to many local people but it was necessary.

The subsequent thinnings will gradually open up small areas where coupe planting can be done and, over the next few years, more small areas of native tree planting will begin the long process of converting the woodland back to something as close to ancient woodland as is possible.

It is vital that the people understand the work planned is being done to preserve these woods for future generations. The argument they should be left alone is selfish and short sighted.

We must put up with five or more years of the woods being disturbed to allow them a chance of being there for our children and their children to enjoy in the future.

The argument that this is about money is ridiculous and insulting in the extreme. I would happily carry on with my work program for 2016 without the small and extremely troublesome contract in Raincliffe, if I even bid for the work this time.

A figure of a thousand tonnes of timber being extracted has been bandied about. We actually extracted almost 700 tonnes of timber from the sites in Raincliffe.

I may or may not be back in Raincliffe this summer but someone will, so long as the Woodland Trust carry on managing the woods. The alternatives don’t bear thinking about. If P Ramorum wasn’t an issue I wouldn’t be advocating the work so strongly – but it is, and I am.

Scarborough has the opportunity to have a wonderful resource right on the doorstep, something many towns would give anything to have. If it isn’t managed, for the good of the woods – not for any mythical commercial venture – it could well be lost.

Surely five years of disruption in some parts of the woods isn’t a huge price, especially when it is the only price we’re being asked to pay, to secure the woods for the next generation.

It’s worth remembering that the work will come to an end, it won’t go on and on, simple economics alone ensure Raincliffe could never be a commercial forest.

None of the trees currently being planted are for a timber crop, they won’t be felled, they are the first step in returning Raincliffe to what it should be, a resource for all the people of the local area, not just for a privileged few.

• Simon Bowes is the English chairman of the Forestry Contracting Association.