Woodland visit adds up for Chinese foresters

Foresters from one of the most populous countries in the world visited South Wales to discover how we encourage people to make the most of our woodlands.

A group of five delegates from the Forestry Bureau of the Municipality of Chongqing in western China came to Garwnant on a fact-finding mission to see how Forestry Commission Wales balances public access with the needs of a thriving forest industry.

The party was given a guided tour of the Forestry Commission Wales centre just outside Merthyr Tydfil, which attracts thousands of people ever year to its walking trails, mountain bike trails, bike park, adventure play area and animal puzzle trail.

The visit built on an agreement signed in 2006 between Forestry Commission Wales and the Forestry Bureau of Chongqing to foster working relationships between the two countries despite the vast differences in scale.

Some 32 million people live in the province of Chongqing alone, compared with around three million in the whole of Wales, and while we have to manage squirrel and deer in our forests, they have to contend with pandas and tigers!

Terry O’Keefe, Forestry Commission Wales Head of Secretariat and Communications, said, “Although the province is four times as big as Wales and has10 times as many people, it was interesting to see that both countries have to manage similar issues, particularly how we encourage people to use woodland without it being damaged. Our Chinese visitors summed it up as a policy of protect and use.

“The scale of our operations and resources may be very different from how things are managed in Chongqing, but there were valuable lessons for both countries to take from the experience of other woodland managers, albeit thousands of miles apart.”

The visitors were particularly interested in how Forestry Commission Wales managed access to Welsh Government woodlands, which cover about six per cent of the area of Wales, and encouraged visitors from towns and cities to enjoy the woodlands.

Other issues discussed were how Forestry Commission Wales protects trees from damage by fire, pests and diseases and how it sustainably manages the woodland resource to ensure it continues to provide a wide range of public benefits.

The Chinese delegation also received a briefing from members of the Woodlands for Learning team on how they work with schools and use woodlands as a stimulating location for educating young people.

This was their second visit to Wales following the signing of the agreement to share knowledge and experience on forestry issues.

That collaboration forms part of a wider agreement between the Government of the Chongqing province and the Welsh Government to co-operate in areas such as education and training, the management of the environment and the stimulation of tourism to boost rural economic development.

Before returning home, the group also visited Switzerland and England to see how they manage their woodlands.

Photograph: Terry O’Keefe from Forestry Commission Wales discusses forest management with delegates from Chongqing
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