Future Forests

Workshop Documentation

Text and Video Documentation from the Workshop

The presentations began with comments from the communities that have an interest in the Black Wood, then various social and cultural approaches were presented that might inform a broader programme of public awareness, access and appreciation that spans both art and science.

Thursday Evening
Communities of Interest in the Black Wood

Reiko Goto is a Principal in the Collins and Goto Studio. She welcomed the delegates. She introduced the work of the C&G Studio and its focus on art and ecology as well as her own work on empathic relationships with trees. Reiko talked about past work and how they became interested in the cultural and ecological aspects of Caledonian Forests. She closed by asking the delegates to imagine that the forest is moving and growing larger, imagining there are new people who care for the forest and its long term well being.

Anne Benson is an Artist and Chair of the Rannoch and Tummel Tourist Association working with the Perth and Kinross Countryside trust on core paths and trails in Rannoch. Living and working amongst the Black Wood. Anne talked about the awareness and knowledge that would support a wider and more meaningful experience of the iconic forest. She put forward a proposal that recognized new ideas about access and walking that appreciated the historic context, the lost Gaelic place names, the import of the conservation science and sought a reciprocal relationship that benefits human and forest alike.

Bob Benson is the Chair of the Loch Rannoch Conservation Association, a Member of the Scottish Government, Transport Scotland, Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland (MACS). Bob Addressed the communities that now take an interest in the Black Wood. He began with the legacy of Gunnar Godwin’s efforts to preserve the Black Wood and the tensions between conservation and the changing relationship to public access and use of the land in Scotland. He called for an evolutionary dialogue that recognizes the import of past actions and current conservation policies while exploring the value of a wider community with an interest in the Black Wood.

Peter Fullarton is a Beat Forester with the Tay Forest District, Forestry Commission. Peter provided a historic overview of the Forestry Commission management and eventual acquisition of the Black Wood in 1958. With attention to the scientific research and assessment that informed the evolution of values that informed the management processes and long term plans for the site; with an overview of the evolution of the Forest Reserve in 1973, the changing management plan and the restoration and expansion process. Peter claimed the forest is the finest of the Caledonian Forest Reserves, due to the complexity and quality of the ecosystem.

Paul Tabbush is chair of Landscape Research Group, retired head of social science research at the Forestry Commission.  He spoke to forests as a cultural ecology, and then clarified a set of ideas about ecosystem services.  Paul began by characterising the “iconic” Black Wood as having open space, notable understory and a scattering of large mature pines. “It is a unique pine wood. It is iconic and fantastic.”  But he also stated that it is a result of 18th Century actions, conflicts and grazing. From that position he went on to explore the cultural meanings and attitudes to woodlands, referencing John Muir and Yosemite, and our understanding of terms like ‘natural’ and ‘wilderness’. He presented a framework that revealed how conservation policy created what are effectively private enclosures, and asks us to consider that all forest is cultural. He then went on to frame the ecosystem services/cultural services agenda.  He talked about the need to assess cultural values as a basis for conservation policy.

Friday Morning Session I,
Appreciating and Assessing the Ecology of the Black Wood.

Rob Coope is the Black Wood Wildlife Ranger.  He provided an overview of the conservation and ecology of the Black Wood. Making a case for the international value of the Caledonian forest ecological community. Rob described the biodiversity; the ecological inter relationships that he is responsible for. He described the community of woody plants and the herbaceous plants, the fungi, lichens and range of insects and creatures that make it an exemplary Caledonian forest. He discussed key plants and organisms as well as rare and endangered species on the site. He explained various issues, research initiatives and a range of past and present management actions. He is the primary advocate and front line manager with responsibility for the forest and its biodiversity.

QUESTION: Author Pammie Steele asked an important question “is the Black Wood big enough?” Rob explained that the existing 2000 acres [Rob revises: “The core area is 300 Hectares and the whole designated site; the area of outstanding Caledonian woodland, is 1011 Ha.”] are a relic, big enough to hold a superb biodiversity assemblage. But in his opinion “Extending the Black Wood would be entirely beneficial and healthy prospect.”

Dave Edwards is a social scientist with Forest Research, and is on the advisory board for the Cultural Services approach to the  National Ecosystem Assessment . He provided an overview of cultural ecosystem services and ecosystem decision-making.  Dave outlined the issues that surround decision-making in landscapes and why cultural values are forgotten or put aside in decision-making. He described the development of ideas about multi-benefit management within the Forestry Commission and the shifting meanings of its ‘core’ business. He provided a critical view of ecosystem service particularly the idea that nature provides services to humanity while humanity provides only impacts. He argued that the method to date remains formulaic assuming a linear progression of cause and effect that is in tension with iterative forest management. He closed by saying that there is an artificial separation between facts and values, where objective evidence has import and socially embedded perception and value does not.

QUESTION: Social Scientist, Paul Tabbush initiated a conversation about the word evidence and its original meaning within the medical community referring to contextual knowledge, that adds essential diagnostic depth to facts. The exchange with David touched on the need for inter-subjective exchange where living things are concerned.

Dave Edwards speaking for Mike Smith: Mike is a Landscape Ecologist with Forest Research. Dave provided an overview of work he was doing with Mike in Lochaber where over one thousand forest hectares will be restored; recreating an extensive native pinewood Forest.  Mike was working on an ecological modelling programme at a five-meter scale that would be fine-tuned with local managers and land use interests. The goal of the model was to produce a tool that allowed for a more rigorous planning process. The model is a discursive tool that focused discussion by including the full range of land uses and interests, enabling political negotiation and knowledge exchange.

Friday Session II
Art and Cultures cContribution to Forests.

Tim Collins is a principal in the Collins and Goto Studio. Tim provided an overview of the relationship between complexity and aesthetics in art practice. He reviewed direction and purpose of the workshop touching on decisions and power, futures and imagination. He stated and restated key questions like where is here, (at what scale)? What is here (following Rob Coope),  how did ‘this’ come to be (following Paul Tabbush), and what does it mean to ‘leave it alone’ (following Peter Fullarton)? He briefly described the southern most Caledonian forest as a core Black Wood, as two restoration zones, as a future restoration area to the south and as a potential landscape ecology scale forest.

Emily Brady is Professor of Environment and Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Emily spoke about aesthetic perception and value and what it might mean in relation to the Black Wood, then talked about her work as a member of the National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) ‘Cultural’ team. She defined aesthetic value as ‘more than visual’ in terms of beauty and majesty but also in terms of what was fascinating or interesting, with positive values but also aesthetic disvalue. She talked about the relationship between imagination and knowledge and background experience informing engagement. She closed with comments on NEA cultural values asking us to think beyond instrumental values and considering things that have values in themselves; different from amenity value.

QUESTION: Social scientist Dave Edwards asked about digging deeper from an aesthetic point of view and the relationship between experience and background. Emily responded by recognizing the value of knowledge, but recognized the exclusivity of ‘expert knowledge’ despite the potential to add depth to experience. 

Jo Vergunst is an Anthropologist at University of Aberdeen.  Jo framed the understanding of landscape as a shift from views and vistas that separated nature from culture, towards an immersive multi-sensual idea of being embedded in the landscape. He explained how the view, the picturesque sets nature apart from everyday life. He goes on to explain that the politics of walking gained import with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (2003). This is a radical conception of outdoor access rights that confirms the right to be almost anywhere; owning land does not mean controlling access to the land. This is a social/political compliment to the physical infrastructure that supports access; confidence and skills rather than developed paths and signage. He suggested this is more complicated in lowland/farmed environments. He concluded by asking if co-creation by humans and nature might be a better way to think about landscape.

QUESTION: Countryside Planner Paul McLennan commented on core paths, and the import of way marking for public confidence arguing it is similar to the social impact of the access code which permits but also enables access.

Murdo MacDonald is a Professor of History of Scottish Art at the University of Dundee. Murdo spoke about the Scottish Gaelic language, its historic alphabet, colour and it relationship to ecology of mind.  He argued that the idea that landscape and the Gaelic language are fundamentally inter-related; indeed the language is stimulated by the trees and plants, and experience of Scotland. He went on to consider details of the alphabet, and ecological relationships embedded in Gaelic colour words which he described as more holistic referring to the general colour properties of a place rather than the discrete descriptions, or precise aspect of English colour words. He argued for a cultural ecology that is expressed not only in the language but in the historic and contemporary art of Scotland. He closes by arguing that the Gaelic language shapes the interior landscape of the mind and in turn the culture.

QUESTION: Forester Jamie McIntyre talked about a project that inserted the Gaelic alphabet in the Sunart Oakwood, pointing out the further complications of old Gaelic and the new Gaelic being taught is schools. A conversation ensued about the Gaelic variations and why non-standardization maybe important here in Scotland.

Chris Fremantle is an independent Arts Producer and Cultural Historian.  Referencing Paul Tabbush’s talk Chris talked about his own work in the public art realm. He spoke specifically about forest as cultural capital. Forest as an idea, a concept and an image which has been both objectified and institutionalized through a process of commissioning work for installation in hospitals in Scotland. He goes on to speak about important international efforts by Common Ground, the artists Joseph Beuys and Helen and Newton Harrison, work done within the cultural register with a range of impact upon landscape scale ecologies, and ideas about landscape. The work is not simply lyrical, referential or illustrative these works shift values, the experience and the understanding of what is real in every day life.

QUESTION: Social Scientist David Edwards asked ‘how the ideas might fit into the real world?’ Chris suggested that it questioned assumptions about a problem-solving context and asked that we think about cultural ecosystems as a sense making challenge; that can inform decisions.

Case Study: Sunart Oakwoods
Jamie McIntyre is an Independent Community Forester. Jamie provided an overview of the Sunart Oakwoods as a comparative case study relevant to the Black Wood. He explained the ecological community and compared it to the Black Wood. He also described the tensions which arose when a community who had always lived with the forest were restricted by a series of conservation designations that confirmed the value of the site. Although European conservation designations opened up potential for EU funding, at first they disenfranchised the community and shut down most aspects of local timber harvesting, grazing and other uses of the woodlands. This conflict resulted in the commissioning of an independent review of the ecology of the forest and its appropriate management, intended to resolve conflicts between owner aspirations, SNH enforcement of conservation law, and the interests of the Forestry Commission. He draws various conclusions.