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National Trust wants to clearcut North American forests

Dame Helen Ghosh, the former Whitehall bureaucrat who now runs the National Trust, was on the Today programme this morning explaining why climate change is the biggest threat to the Trust's work.

Pressed to explain herself, Dame Helen had almost nothing to justify her position, apart from a suggestion that the Trust likes to address the issues of the day. This came across to me as saying "we just jump on any passing bandwagon, it's good for business".

She did mumble something about declines in house sparrow and hedgehog populations. Unfortunately for this case, the fall in sparrow numbers appears to be due to changes in farming practices, to cats, and to pesticides, and in hedgehog numbers because of habitat loss. Dame Helen is therefore engaging in some pretty misleading scaremongering on the climate front.

When pressed on whether people should stop burning fossil fuels she again waffled, before saying that the Trust was going to be getting most of its energy from renewables. Interestingly, she didn't mention windfarms, no doubt because she might have been hammered on the "desecration of the uplands" front (although on the BBC she would presumably have been safe enough). Instead she spoke of hydro schemes and biomass boilers.

Given that wood pellets are being imported from North American forests that are clearcut for the purpose, this does seem quite a strange policy for the National Trust to adopt. Is this really what the National Trust wants to see happening?

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Reader Comments (59)

I liked when John Humphrey asked if Climate Change is such an issue shouldn't you be telling people to stop visiting as they mainly use cars creating carbon emissions.

Mar 23, 2015 at 10:53 AM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

As Robin Page reported in the DT, if you find a Hedgehog skin licked clean then it has been eaten by a Badger, if only partially consumed then a Fox was the predator.
Dare one suggest that Badger culls and Fox-hunting might solve this problem ?

Mar 23, 2015 at 10:56 AM | Unregistered Commentertoad

Here is the NT news item where they claim that "Climate change now poses the single biggest threat to the places we look after", with a link to a longer strategy document.

Mar 23, 2015 at 10:57 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

I agree with the absurdity and waste and cost of producing and shipping wood pellets from the US, but claims that

North American forests that are clearcut for the purpose

or even worse the Mail claims:

North Carolina’s ‘bottomland’ forest is being cut down in swathes, and much of it pulped and turned into wood pellets – so Britain can keep its lights on.

border on some of the worst scaremongering committed by Alarmists.

There are no "virgin forests" being clear felled for woods pellets in the US. They don't harvest "Majestic trees" like century old oak trees.

These are commercial timberland farms. The plant, grow, thin and harvest the timber, using fast growing, typically conifer species.

Please correct your post, you are better than this. The fact that regulation and subsidy is forcing this cost upon us is reason enough to object. There is no need to manufacture emotive, but factually misleading claim or out and out lies.

Mar 23, 2015 at 10:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Humphreys gave her a fairly hard time which is progress of a sort. Several times she used an irritating phrase, "show what good means". Doing good? Good practice? Either way this is the same old patronising cr*p about 'setting an example' in a context which is anyway perfectly pointless - because if AGW is the big deal its claimed to be, the antics of the National Trust will make not a jot of difference; and second how far up her bum must her head be for this woman to think anyone gives a hoot, even notices, what the National Trust is/is not doing about anything? If challenged no doubt she would probably start dripping on about the NT's 'brand' and 'brand awareness'.....I know someone has to run these organisations but really .....

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:09 AM | Unregistered Commenterbill

They pulled this marketing stunt last year as well, worth another go for them as every other news story on the BBC is now about climate change (the other half being A&E waiting times, though that has gone a bit quiet recently, I wonder why?).

I wonder if the NT donors know where some of their money is going.

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterMikky

Lots of sparrows here in Dublin. Also lots of finches, green, chaffinch, gold and daily visits also in our back garden from yellowhammer.

The latter have been here all winter as I use a mixed seed which has something in it they like.

Alas, no Brambling this year But I have occasional visits from Goldcrest.


Mar 23, 2015 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterPeter Walsh


Happy to correct if you can convince me it's wrong. I've had a quick Google and bottomland forests appear to be hardwood rather than conifer, so plantation seems less likely?

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:18 AM | Registered CommenterBishop Hill

To stylise the timberland industry in the US as one that "clearcuts forests", is misleading.

It is like claiming that farmers "massacre thousands of animals each day", when of course they breed and grow domestic stock, in a self sustaining way.

And they don't used hardwoods for pellet production. Why would they, it takes too long for the timber to grow. The use mostly conifer breeds, and sometimes SOFT oaks or maples. All planted and grown for the purpose of producing timber products.

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

From the EPA. Note the highlight sections:

Seven-Tenths of U.S. forest lands, or 514.2 million acres of the total 751.2 million acres of forest land, are classified as timberlands. Timberlands are defined as forest lands used for the production of commercial wood products. Commercial timberland can be used for repeated growing and harvesting of trees.

Of the 514.2 million acres of timberland, Federal, State, and local governments own 112.7 million acres (22 percent) and non-industrial private entities own 401.5 million acres (78 percent). Private timberlands are mostly on small tracts of forest land. (U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2012; 2007 data)

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Well said Toad! Sparrow reduction is also likely a result of increase in Sparrowhawk numbers!

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Humphrys (not Humphries) is becoming more sceptical as the weeks pass. This is the second interview in a week,when questions were given as if straight from Andrew Montford.

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:33 AM | Unregistered Commentertrefjon

It's not clear to me whether the NT biomass schemes use imported pellets from US (as at Drax), or wood from their own estates.
This article suggests that in at least one case it's the latter., so you may be overstating the case a bit.

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:37 AM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Trefjon - I beg to differ, I found Humphrys soft, and submissive in both cases. So much do, I posted on Biased BBC both last week, and this morning. There is no stiff questioning, and no pursuance of an alternative view.

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:44 AM | Unregistered CommenterOld Goat

Some facts on UK pellet demand and supply:

US exports of wood pellets to the tripled between 2012 and 2013 (to 1.8 million tons).

UK imports of wood pellets doubled between 2012 and 2013 alone (to 3.7 million tons)

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

@Paul Matthews

Linked article is about the National Trust for Scotland - which is a different entity. But I think the gist is the same - the biomass is home-grown. In which case the post headline is rather more than an overstatement.

The NT in E&W do oppose windfarm developments on occesion -

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterVictoria Sponge

I've noticed a slight change in tone as well.

I heard the broadcast, it seemed more like waffle and hand waving by Dame Helen Ghosh

Mar 23, 2015 at 11:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

The woman really spoiled my breakfast this morning.

She insisted that climate change was a top threat to the NT. She didn’t explain whether it was the constant global average temperature that was the problem or the reported decrease in frequency of extreme weather events over the last couple of decades. Perhaps she was referring the slowing down of the long term rise in sea levels.

The BBC made no attempt to discover what aspect of climate change was a threat or even happening, but then the BBC is just keen to broadcast climate change and threat in the same sentence.

I need to look into the NT stupidity in more detail but I’m tempted to cancel future subscriptions if they start wasting my money on politically correct green propaganda projects. It does sound as though they have received advice from the experts who shape BBC strategy.

Mar 23, 2015 at 12:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

JH asks the odd sceptical question but lets them have a free ride in the answer. Tokenism.

Mar 23, 2015 at 12:03 PM | Registered CommenterBreath of Fresh Air

I had a very similar discussion with someone the other day. Problem is that even fast growing wood species are in modern terms a long term investment companies and shareholders wanting a quick return and landowners needing to live are more interested in decent returns in a couple of years.

Do you have a source which gives data on percentage of woodchips from multiple re-planted US forests. Also data on re-plant like for like on replacing first cut/virgin woodland? I wasn't convinced on either point.

Mar 23, 2015 at 12:06 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

The NT is yet another organisation that does good work on the ground but has been taken over at the top by the GreenBlob and by PCness.

Mar 23, 2015 at 12:08 PM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Evidence of clear cutting from North Carolina.

Mar 23, 2015 at 12:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterMessenger


Let me ask you this question. How easy do you think it is to fell a virgin hardwood forest?

Here are some of the standards to which virtually all US producers comply:

Mar 23, 2015 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterGeckko

Re: the populations of sparrows and hedgehogs etc, these reports really need more context. The default assumption always seems to be that populations of wild animals are fixed and constant, and any significant changes in a population must therefore be due to nasty old farmers or nasty selfish people heating their homes. However it's well understood that natural populations cannot be expected to be stable - see for example all the graphs here:

Simply finding that hedgehog numbers have dropped by X% over Y years is not enough to warrant panic, but that's all we ever get in these reports - no analysis of the reasons why, and often a completely unjustified extrapolation of the data to suggest that extinction is imminent.

The BBC even has a good explanation of the true nature of things on its GCSE revision pages at:

but of course senior environmental correspondents could not be expected to understand that sort of thing :-)

Mar 23, 2015 at 12:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterChris Long

Decline in hedgehogs.

In my travels, I have concluded that the biggest reason for the decline in hedgehog numbers, is their deliberate refusal to learn the highway code, before fleeing the safety of the maternal nest.

I feel sure that the National Trust, if there was money to be made, would willingly embark upon ambitious, and lucrative EU funded programs to teach the Highway Code to hedgehogs, involving school children, to prove how inclusive, community projects can be.

Fox and badger numbers may decline however, as they have evolved, knowing that Pirelli/Goodyear food processors, do take a lot of potential pain out of the slaughter, butchery and consumption of hedgehogs, and traditional skills may have been lost. No doubt the National Trust, with EU funding, will be happy to teach foxes and badgers, how to kill and eat hedgehogs......

And Then There's Defleaing the maternal nest........

Mar 23, 2015 at 12:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

Agree with the many sensible comments here. The headline isn't justified and it rather devalues the whole blog for me if I see such rushes to judgement.
However, I caught some of the interview (in between traffic report interruptions) and found the comments of Dame Helen Ghosh just as vacuous as you reported. The only examples of problems (definitely not climate-change related) cited were loss of popular icons - sparrows and hedgehogs. Neither is in any danger. Sparrows look like they are beginning to rebound from a mysterious very low point in 1990s, and the reduction in hedgehog numbers in S. of England is in my opinion certainly related to a big rise in badgers. In neither case is NT doing anything to help.
Ref. the comments on USA wood pellets - I think I'm right in saying that the total amount of USA woodland has been increasing for some decades, as is the case in UK and other developed countries. Of course, farmed conifers are no substitute for ancient forest land to natural history fans like me, but that's a minority interest and unimportant in the bigger picture.

Mar 23, 2015 at 12:40 PM | Unregistered Commentermothcatcher

There is no doubt that fast growing trees can be grown as a crop, for example eucalyptus is cut at 8-12 years as a source of hardwood. Another factor is whether the species is local and compatible with its environment. Unsuitable species of trees can be grown very successfully but could harm the environment. An example of this might be a high water demand leading to long term drying out of the land. This could cause harm to other plants and wildlife and erosion of the entire topsoil by wind.

I know very little about the subject but enough to realise that the true environmental impact may not be straightforward.

Mar 23, 2015 at 12:52 PM | Unregistered CommenterSchrodinger's Cat

It is true ! The NT is forced to burn the rafters and joists of their listed buildings to keep them warm.

Badger and fox populations in the country have dramatically declined, because they all now live in the bloody towns !


Mar 23, 2015 at 1:01 PM | Unregistered Commenterottokring

I am reminded of the sign alongside the stream below Bodiam Castle in Sussex (National Trust; long way from anywhere so only accessible by car) which confidently warned all and sundry to enjoy the view 'because in 50 years time this will all be under water...'

Er..... pardon....?

Mar 23, 2015 at 1:06 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

sigh.... yet another gormless and monumentally self important quango queen holds forth on something she is supremely ignorant of (if you accept that she's simply ignorant and incurious) .

Jobs for the boys (and girls) - the National "Trust" eh...? A rest home for jobsworths with an appetite for grace & favour - probably fine if you simply want a garden walk of a weekend - but try living next door and actually dealing with them....

As to biomass trees - it's BS, just big steaming pile of BS - the cost of agricultural structural timber has simply gone bonkers... The massive upward distortion of price engendered by subsidised (imported) tree burning is just incredible. South Sea bubbles and tulip madness are beginning to look like tame manias compared to all this,

Helen Ghosh was useless at DEFRA and is now useless at NT and will likely get a fatso pension from both for being....

Mar 23, 2015 at 1:11 PM | Registered Commentertomo

This document about Calke Abbey says
"At present all of the wood to fuel the biomass boiler is grown within the National Forest and bulk stored less than ten miles of the site; it is hoped that within a decade, 20% of the wood chip for the boiler will come from the Calke Estate itself."

Mar 23, 2015 at 1:28 PM | Registered CommenterPaul Matthews

Any disappearance of a type of creature is knee-jerkingly blamed on man directly, or indirectly through something like climate change. But isn't it the case that there's a lot we don't know? I've no idea why sparrows have declined (though plenty of gardeners will say 'good riddance') nor have I any idea why magpies are much more abundant than they were 40 or so years ago, as are wagtails which I hardly ever saw at all as a child. Perhaps its just me that doesn't know ....

Mar 23, 2015 at 1:33 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill

House Sparrows are very widely distributed around the world. I recall that they were very common, for instance, in Mexico City some years back and presumably still are. They were introduced to Chile a little over a century ago and are now found throughout the north and central parts of the country, as well as on Easter Island, meaning that the species copes within one country with a far greater temperature range than even the most swivel-eyed alarmist can pretend to have occurred through "global warming".

Mar 23, 2015 at 1:57 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen Morgan

We should remember that England's first energy crisis was a shortage of firewood in the early 17th century. We seem determined to repeat the mistake.

Mar 23, 2015 at 1:58 PM | Unregistered CommenterIt doesn't add up...

Whatever may be the current situation regarding sparrows in the UK I can assure everyone that they are alive and well in Burgundy.
As are blue tits, great tits, collared doves, greenfinches and goldfinches.
The fact that we have two cats and appear to be on the main traffic route for half-a-dozen more (less so now since our pair arrived!) does not stop sparrows flocking in numbers up to about two dozen (hard to count them, as you know) while the great tits and the finches have learned to form an orderly queue (believe it or not!) for their turn on the sunflower seeds.

mothcatcher and bill are right. There is a knee-jerk reaction by the environmental groups (well, there's a surprise!) that every change in the population of some tear-jerking species from newts and frogs through sparrers and the cheeky blue tit and the robin up to baby seals, dolphins and the polar bears just has to be man's fault.
The reason, of course, is that while they sort of understand the food chain idea they fail to carry through the idea to its sane and logical conclusion, namely that if you "protect" the predator you will have a shortage of predatees. So one brain cell of the Society for the Protection of Whichever Bird Looks Like Bringing in the Most Money This Year goes all gung-ho for the red kite or the magpie or some other vicious little feathery brute, down the corridor another brain cell is bemoaning the state of the sparrow or the wren or the chaffinch and blaming farmers or cats or "loss of habitat" (always a good one, that!).
Meanwhile at the top of that food chain for the last several thousand years has been homo sapiens and if you aren't going to re-wild the countryside with bear and lynx to control other top of the food chain predators like badgers and foxes (as toad pointed out up top) then you need to allow man to regulate them instead by the most efficient and humane methods which means culling the badgers, stalking the deer and setting the dogs on the foxes.
That way you weed out the weak, infirm, old and sick and keep the stock healthy so that they can carry on keeping the rat and the rabbit population (and others) in some sort of natural balance.

Mar 23, 2015 at 2:00 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Thank goodness for Matt Ridley's carefully constructed article in The Sunday Times News Review, in support of fossil fuels...

Mar 23, 2015 at 2:02 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Paul Matthews - let's hope the 'biomass' doesn't spontaneously combust, as it has a tendency to do (Tilbury PS)...

Mar 23, 2015 at 2:06 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Could imported wood pellets be in the same category as farm crops grown for bio fuels? That is, it all sounds good until the an auditor in the US discovered that energy used in the form of fossil fuels for the production of corn etc., was greater than energy produced. A good possibility I think, that the conversion of a tree into a suitable form and transport across the Atlantic just might consume a fair amount of diesel and bunker fuels.

Mar 23, 2015 at 2:09 PM | Unregistered Commenterold john

Didn't Helen Ghosh preside in large part over £560 million-ish in EU fines for UK gubmint wrongdoing and another £50million -ish in payouts from the UK taxpayer to bye-bye worthless incompetents (actually colleagues!) at the Rural Payments Agency?

- yet another example of out top-class, top drawer Rolls-Royce (sorry Derby!) civil service.

Mar 23, 2015 at 2:22 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Mar 23, 2015 at 1:57 PM | Owen Morgan

Sparrows are pretty much ubiquitous around the world. Didn't see them in Sri Lanka recently but they had amazingly diverse wildlife everywhere, they did have alot of crows too but didn't seem to affect the local very colourfull wildlife much.

Mar 23, 2015 at 2:53 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

Breath of Fresh Air,

JH asks the odd sceptical question but lets them have a free ride in the answer. Tokenism.

I'm inclined to agree yet...

Doesn't he always go soft on women?
He never challenges them.

He'd treat Chancellor Merkel as a dainty flower.

Mar 23, 2015 at 3:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterMCourtney

Americans in the lumber and forestry business are laughing at climate kooks all the way to the bank.

Mar 23, 2015 at 3:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Please be careful about sparrows, otherwise a taxpayer funded scientivist pal reviewed paper will be produced, blaming the cause of the nonexistent pause, on sparrows. There will be cautions about UK observations of lower numbers of sparrows, not reflecting the bigger worldwide picture.

A new scientific paper based on growth rings in the teeth of fossilized sharks, using embedded DNA and Carbon isotopes, will demonstrate how whole flocks of starving suicidal sparrows have flown out to sea, to die and be consumed by Great Whites, during times of terrestial grain failure.

Climate science may be dying, but climate scientists are ready to evolve, to meet the next manufactured crisis.

Mar 23, 2015 at 3:31 PM | Unregistered CommenterGolf Charlie

I don't know that's why I asked the question, but as you didn't answer it directly but gave a politician's answer; that is asking a different question and then partially answering that one instead I guess you don't actually know the answer either.

That is a pity because I'd like to know just what the situation is with regard to re-planting of forests.

Mar 23, 2015 at 3:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterSandyS

tomo that Rural Payments Agency cock-up has never been looked at closely enough. The RPA's excuse was (I tink) 'computer broke'. Consider the pay-outs made not just to a few thousand farmers but to literally millions of shareholders, that big companies like BP make. Dividend cheques ever late? No because there would be hell to pay if they were. If PLCs can get the payments out to huge numbers of people, worldwide, on time twice a year, again and again and again, why can't HMG which is a far more substantial organisation than any old PLC. If I'm right in thinking there are only about 11,000 farmers who get the cheques surely a few hundred clerks at Min Ag could have been sat down in the great hall and written the lot by hand in a morning anyway?

Mar 23, 2015 at 3:51 PM | Unregistered Commenterbill

The NT were neutral on global warming until the arrival of Ghose who appears to favour it. In the Chilterns NT has ample wood supplies of its own and doesn't import wood pellets. I assume somebody at NT kept the lid on global warming hysteria until recently. They definitely were against wind mills on NT land - or nearby.

Mar 23, 2015 at 8:16 PM | Unregistered Commentercarol smith

Ghosh's appointment was symptomatic of a takeover over the NT by the bien pensant tendency which has turned an already questionable organisation into one which I am now actively ashamed to be a member of.

Like most other members, I'm sure, I joined because it is incredibly expensive to visit a number of NT properties every year and pay separately. I did not join a political lobbying group - least of all an ill-informed one - and I did not want some jumped-up Quangocrat to be shoe-horned in to run it. The 'Green blob' indeed!

Mar 23, 2015 at 8:17 PM | Unregistered CommenterUncle Badger

"Humphreys gave her a hard time?" Not what I heard this morning - she got a free hit.

Mar 23, 2015 at 8:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Foster

The NT has been making rather a mess with a small scale hydro scheme in Langdale in the Lake District, doubtless mainly financed by one subsidy or another. Would any other organisation have got planning permission? I wonder how many other such schemes they've been implementing.

Mar 23, 2015 at 8:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterShotover


if you looked closely at the RPA foul up you'd have to look at other stuff - and pretty soon you'd get dizzy / acute nausea. Being a total disaster area in public service isn't rewarded with a P45 or a demotion to tea and biscuit monitor - here's a fat wedge and a promotion or a sideways leap into another undemanding sinecure that you can proceed to foul up too...

We really do need to get a grip on the incompetent (or worse) self serving goons that have inveigled themselves into public employment...

Mar 23, 2015 at 9:29 PM | Registered Commentertomo

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