Forestry and shooting are not usually seen as natural bedfellows, with many stories of gamekeepers and foresters not seeing “eye to eye” to put it mildly. However, this was not always the case and ahead of the changes to the tax relief benefits in the late 80’s the forestry and game keeping departments were integrated on many lowland estate’s with more often than not the requirements of the shoot guiding some of the forestry operations.
The next twenty five years saw a decided shift. The loss of tax relief resulted in traditional estate forestry teams dismantled and in many cases game management and shooting became the key economic driver associated within the woodland asset. Poor timber prices and a decreasing contractor base resulted in woodland operations either being ignored or undertaken at an inappropriate scale and at challenging times of the year, often dictated by the availability of resources. The shoot would often be the focus of owners’ recreational use of their property and the forestry seen as a drain on time and money.
However, I believe this position is changing and it was hugely encouraging to see that looking after and investing in your woodlands listed as a ‘Best Practice Tip’ in CLA’s August edition of Land & Business.
Many of us in the forestry world who love our shooting know this only too well. Dark cold overstocked woodlands are poor for both pheasants and ground flora. Thinning and coppicing activity will let in the sun and allow the understorey and ground flora to flourish providing habitat that will hold game better. Many shoot woodlands are now starting to show the results of the lack of management intervention of the past few decades, with older woods now suffering closed canopies and weak understories and ground cover. In addition, many young plantations, often established for shooting, are now heavily overstocked with management interventions deferred due to cost and perceived negative disturbance.
A New Opportunity
The last few years have started to see a renaissance in the fortune of our woodlands. Favourable exchange rates and increasing demand have seen a resurgence in the timber prices as identified in our July update.
On the back of these increases, opportunities are coming forward to generate significant revenues from even relatively modest harvesting and thinning operations. For example, a hardwood firewood thinning could return some £1,000 to £1,250 per ha. If these lower grade products are integrated with some higher grade timber products the operational returns can be significant and will help to support other operational work in the woodland, for example improving operational access and opening rides and areas of open ground critical for the provision of good quality game holding and flushing cover.
In addition, we are seeing government focusing on natural capital to guide the management of the rural estate. Following their 25 Year Environment Plan the government published Health and Harmony” their command paper on the future of farming and rural land management. The key focus appears to be a move away from production-focused subsidies in favour of “Public Payments for Public Goods”. The ability of woodlands to deliver real “Public Goods” in the form of carbon sequestration, water and air quality, biodiversity and other natural capital assets offers opportunities for real and sustainable returns.
The key to understanding how these opportunities can be embraced will require a deep understanding of both the silvicultural and game management priorities and issues. At Lockhart Garratt we have always prided ourselves on our understanding of the issues, but we are delighted that this knowledge and understanding has been further strengthened through the recruitment of Huw Lloyd to our forestry team. Huw joined us from BASC after 6 years as the gamekeeping officer and latterly the South East regional officer and brings a deep understanding of the shooting requirements as well as a strong forestry knowledge.
In discussions with Huw, it is clear that the shooting and forestry interests are often closely aligned. Foresters will be looking for well-thinned woodland that are developing quality and therefore high value timber. Good thinning will, if managed correctly, ensure good light levels to the forest floor and strong understorey and ground flora layer, good for both game and wider biodiversity.
Woodlands also need to be accessible both for shooting and forestry operations. Creation of rides and provision of surfaced all weather access can be funded through forestry grant support and will facilitate smaller scale and more targeted woodland operations. For example, through facilitation of plans for flushing points for the next ten years through smaller scale and regular felling and thinning. In addition, the creation of new rides and open ground will help to massively increase the range and quality of suitable game habitat
As with so many aspects of life, both personal and business, communication is key. There is no doubt that this is greatly enhanced by the understanding of the issues and requirements from all sides. In all cases, it will be critical to work to develop trusted relationships between the shoot’s and the forestry interests. Experience has shown the value of this where it can be achieved and the results can be a genuine “Win Win” outcome.
Policy and funding changes will undoubtedly see the economic role of woodlands coming into focus as we move towards subsidies, which require the provision of public goods; and that doesn’t necessarily mean more public access. Woodland will be expected to earn its keep and ideally become an integral part of the rural property portfolio.
I believe this offers a massive opportunity for shooting and game management and the challenge will be for both sides to embrace the change and work together to ensure that our woodlands fulfil their real multi-functional purpose.
At Lockhart Garratt we are keen to share knowledge and experience and as many of you will be aware we have already ran a series of very successful free workshops on ecology and veteran trees. We are currently looking at extending this to forestry and landscape and are discussing the options for a forestry and game management workshop for 2019.
If you would like to discuss opportunities of woodland management for shooting or would be interested in a future workshop please contact Huw Lloyd on 01608 648 657.
 Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit
 Public Goods: “benefits that serve more than one party and cannot be delivered by the market alone”
 British Association for Shooting and Conservation