Planting woods as a crop or as an ecosystem

For many years new woodlands in Britain have been planted as a crop. An assessment is made to determine the most suitable species of tree to plant with regard to the soil type, climate and likely return from the mature timber.  Usually just one species was planted to simplify management of the crop; after all you would never expect a farmer to sow a mixture of wheat and barley in the same field.

The tree as a crop suffers two major economic disadvantages compared to cereals. Firstly, there is the long time between planting and harvesting, with all the costs of planting and establishing the trees to be paid many years before the revenue from harvesting. Foresters have tried to counteract this by planting fast growing conifers, but this only shows the second major disadvantage; there are vast areas around the world in Canada, Russia and northern Europe covered with coniferous forest. These countries compete with each other to sell their timber at very low prices. So growing coniferous trees as a crop in lowland Britain becomes totally uneconomic.

A 60 year old woodland of Scots Pine in Lincolnshire was recently clear- felled for timber. After 60 years of costly management the revenue from the felled trees was equalled by the cost of building roads into the woodland to extract it! It would have been more economic to leave the woodland alone.

Planting trees as a crop in lowland Britain makes little economic sense nowadays, but there is still a great deal of interest in planting trees as the first step towards establishing a woodland and the associated woodland ecosystem for conservation, sporting or landscape reasons.

With a bit of careful management these same woodlands can also produce quality hardwood timber.