Interview: Piers Voysey

Published: 16th May 2016

We spoke to Reforesting Scotland’s Piers Voysey to learn more about the organisation’s vision for people and woodlands in Scotland

Why does Reforesting Scotland exist?

There was a gap for an organisation that could represent a radical vision for the role of trees and woodlands in the Scottish landscape and wider society. We provide a forum for many people who might otherwise feel excluded from the mainstream debate about where forestry is heading in Scotland, or who are looking for something a bit different; for example, covering ecological restoration, building with wood, and land ownership. As a result, we bring together a broad network of individuals: foresters and foragers, architects and artists, landowners and land reformers, writers, ecologists, chefs, diggers, dreamers and ordinary people with a love of trees.

Any plans for actual land ownership to help further your message?

We do not own or manage land, but encourage our members to seek opportunities in volunteering with other organisations, the John Muir Trust included. Land ownership is not an option that we would rule out, if we could find a place that would serve as a demonstration site for the implementation of our values. For the moment we need to be light of foot and not tied down by location or any one project.

What emphasis do you place on restoring and expanding native woodlands?

We’d like to see high emphasis on native woodlands and native species, but commercial plantations have a role too. In our ideal world, commercial plantations would be planted to meet the needs of local communities and they might be managed on a smaller scale or to provide the maximum number of jobs and still cover the costs of establishment. Forest crofts or woodlots are management models that need further research and application.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Norway is still an ecological and social model that we reference: geologically and climatically similar to Scotland, but with smaller land ownerships and a forest and hunting culture that favours a more ecologically-balanced landscape. We also draw inspiration from people past and present: ecologists such as Frank Fraser Darling; doers like Ron Greer; and people who challenge our established paradigms, such as Andy Wightman in his writing about land reform.

What’s your position on deer management in Scotland?

In the absence of any higher predators, deer numbers need to be managed by people. We believe that the health and quality of natural habitats is still being undermined by high deer numbers which prevent regeneration of tree species. We’d like to see more people involved in deer management; that deer become part of our relationship with the land and the trees; and that we bring deer numbers down to levels that are more ecologically sustainable. We are also sympathetic to the Trees For Life vision of lynx and, perhaps, wolves being part of our ecology again.

Tell us how your Thousand Huts Campaign came about?

Timber-building from the forest is a natural strand of forest culture, with living in the forest a somewhat lost aspect of our evolution as a species. The spark for the campaign came in 2010 when Ninian Stuart, a then new director of Reforesting Scotland, built a hut in the woods at Falkland – and suggested at our Annual Gathering that we launch a campaign to make huts more accessible for all. The spark quickly took hold among our members who understood the potential of huts to give ordinary people a place to dwell for a while on the land. The campaign was promptly supported by a range of people such as land reformer Alastair Mcintosh and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch, while a broad-based grouping of enthusiasts has emerged and given the campaign great energy and direction. The idea of people having a small hut in the woods, hills or coastlines of Scotland is such a simple, beautiful and low-impact concept.

Finally, you are a membership organisation – why should someone sign up?

To be part of a vision to build a stronger woodland culture in Scotland; to be inspired by like-minded people and by people with radical ideas on land ownership, building with wood or woodland management; and to engage in the wider debate about the place of woodlands and forest culture in Scotland.

Further info

For more on the work of Reforesting Scotland, including its Thousand Huts campaign, visit www.reforestingscotland.org

This interview first appeared in John Muir Trust Journal 57, Autumn 2014