16 comments on “Subsidies to spruce plantations

  1. It all started with the Royal Navy needing tall trees for the masts for 1st Rate sailing ships. The bureaucracy, as is standard, never quite lost the habit as the world moved on.

    There’s some quite relevant stuff in the East Coast of the US on size of the earliest “rich person & family” houses. Main roof members above a certain size were extremely heavily taxed – because trees of that size should have been sold to the RN. There are some interesting house designs in New England as a result.

  2. If you want to know about the historical botany of trees in Britain (and elsewhere) read Oliver Rackham’s books. He’s particularly good value when dismissing all the factoids about Timber Shortage Hits Royal Navy, Woods Felled for Iron-Making, Serfs Eviscerated for Hunting Deer, and Anglo-Saxons Had To Clear Trackless Forests.

    (One of his most fascinating points is that no-one has a clue how our ancestors cleared the original British wildwood. No evidence at all.)

  3. Oh yeah, and if you want a nice anecdote, read the one about one of the Stuart Kings subsidising mulberry trees in hopes of starting a silk industry. They planted the wrong sort of mulberries. Silk worms no likee.

  4. Can I just endorse dearieme’s comments, Rackham’s ‘Ancient Woodland’ is one of the finest books ever written. There’s something fascinating on every page.
    The Silkworm fiasco should be brought up every time someone demands that governments plan future industries.

  5. but SE and dearieme, the 20thc. cult of forestry had very little to do with the Royal navy, which was burning coal and oil by then…..for some reason, someone decided that the UK had too few trees…and we had to increase the number of trees

  6. but diogenes, it’s all of a piece with hundreds of years of govt cock-ups. Anyway, Rackham is on the case – he attributes the curse of modern forestry to Germany, originally, then being taken up in British India, then being introduced to Britain from there through the university departments of Forestry.

  7. Chapter 9 of Derek Ratcliffe’s wonderful book ‘Galloway and the Borders’ tells the whole grisly tale.

    Ratcliffe was Chief Scientist of the Nature Conservancy Council until he retired in 1989.

    He says: ‘The latest argument for planting more conifers is carbon sequestration….Oliver Rackham remarked that this was rather like asking people to drink more water in order to reduce sea-level rise’.

  8. Pete, when I worked at O2 in the Netherlands, the Board came up with a plan whereby the employees could contribute to planting a new forest in the Netherlands – their contributions being topped up by the company – to offset some imaginary consequence of building a mobile phone network. My preferred method of carbon offsetting is to eat a big steak for every time you fly in an aircraft.

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