The end of an era – Closure of the South Yorkshire Forest Partnership – SYFP

national community forest network photoThis message is from Joanna Mawson – the last Director of the South Yorkshire Forest Partnership and represents both the end of an era begun in the 1990s with South Yorkshire Community Forest, and also an early casualty of the BREXIT vote as European uncertainty cost the project its funding support ……

SYF was one of a few vehicles which we used inthe 1990s, to help establish over 12 Local Nature Reserves across the Sheffield region – so bear that in mind next time you visit Ecclesall Woods, Wharncliffe Heath, Woolley Wood, Bowden Wood, Blackburn Meadows,  Shire Brook Valley,  Woodhouse Washlands, Loxley Common, Wyming Brook, and other sites.

Sadly, many local folk did not really know the work done by the Forest Partnership and in recent times, largely due to financial cuts and the need to search for new funding, the project rather lost its core directions.  However, it will be sorely missed…..

about

Closure of the South Yorkshire Forest Partnership – SYFP Partners Briefing October 2016

I’m writing to you about the closure of the SYFP. Some of you already know this was a possibility due to the ongoing budget deficit since 2014/15 which was outlined in the Business plan I presented back in May. I am sorry to leave the update until now but I was only very recently informed of the decision by SCC not to renew contracts and in the intervening period I have still been energetically exploring some final options for possible continuation of the SYFP.

To put this decision into context: I was made aware the closure may happen following an instruction to instigate an SCC MER (managing employee reductions) for the SYFP that enabled the Council to terminate contracts at the end of October. Concern about closure has been hanging over us since before I started in post last September when there was limited clarity about the financial status of the organisation and no strategic planning in place for a sustainable way forward when I arrived. I was concerned that SYFP had become a ‘hollowed out organisation’ without a clear direction and compounded by lack of Partnership funding and an over-reliance on EU projects.

Although we were successful in bidding for funding to provide Technical Assistance for Low Carbon projects in Sheffield City Region, because we don’t have all of the match funding in place, (only £8,000 at most), we are to be closed down without a fair and reasonable evaluation of the ongoing project development and future benefits. I have only been very peripherally involved in any conversation around the possible future options for the organisation.

This is illustrated by the role of SCC Finance, who recently authored a report on the SYFP and provided budget projections, to which I was not party and in which much of the information included was incorrect, and some misleading. Although I provided robust comments on the report and budgets I don’t know if they were incorporated or not and to whom the report was presented.

Further financial pressures have been added by the impact of enhanced redundancy payments which were offered corporately by the Council but which had to be born from our reserves, and the requirement to retain funds to re-employ a staff member on maternity even though this will hasten the demise of the organisation.
Other community forests have had similar issues but most have managed to re- invent themselves as viable organisations with support and guidance from local authority partners. However, funding remains a serious challenge for many of the Community Forest Network members and the Mersey Forest is leading on discussions with the relevant Governmental bodies about possible funding options for the CFN going forward.
Unfortunately, this will not be in time to relieve SYFP’s small deficit this year.

Furthermore, a strategic pause in project approvals due to Brexit and Governmental indecision have apparently slowed announcements on the roll out of the new DEFRA 25 year Open Plan the new ‘natural capital’ based approach to landscape planning and management which is to be rolled out by the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Forestry Commission. This new plan for the environment is a future opportunity for the the Community Forests to contribute significantly to building resilience to climate change and associated multiple benefits such as woodland industry opportunities.
Also for SYFP one of the biggest challenges has been the lack of any strategic working context from within Council, in our case the Place Directorate, and specifically in respect to the Key challenges for sustainability and environmental planning and projects. My immediate colleagues Maria Duffy former acting Head of Planning and Mike Hayden former Head of Planning did try to support SYFP through their line management role but my very strong impression is that there has been no positive feedback or interest from more senior officers to business planning or other initiatives I have undertaken to try and create a sustainable future for the organisation. This includes the successful work that we have undertaken on Low Carbon and Renewables with SME’s through our ERDF Technical Assistance Project.

Spud Wood Group © WTML Jill Jennings

The uncertainty and lack of supportive working environment for SYFP, apart from immediate colleagues and previous heads of planning, has deeply undermined confidence so staff have understandably looked for other opportunities and left – therefore capacity to deliver projects is no longer in place.

Looking back on the performance of Place in respect to the environment the demise of Sustainable City Service under the former leadership of Andy Nolan appears to have been the beginning of a severe decline and deskilling. The Place Capital Delivery Service lead for renewable energy has recently left the Council with no replacement and the team also no longer exists. There is also no committed resource for the Green Commission and no delivery strategy in place. All capacity for developing environmental sustainability for Sheffield has been eroded at an alarming rate and although austerity is a factor lack of proactive positive management is a more fundamental problem.

 

Planting Magnolia Divas cropp

In contrast hopefully some the work we have undertaken this year, including working on Low Carbon bids, proposals for the Great North Forest, low carbon apprenticeships and several funding bids (Biomass and Natural Flood Risk Management) can still be developed further at some point. The South Yorkshire region has a great industrial history and resulting post-industrial landscape legacy that is yet to be fully restored and ‘re-imagined’ for future benefit. This is countered by wonderful and exceptionally diverse natural landscapes of international importance that are all part of the future opportunity for environmental excellence and innovation.

During my year in post I have tried to promote a renewed focus on the Low Carbon agenda through developing projects that link to tree planting, landscape management and green infrastructure. This is increasingly recognised as one of the key urgent responses to climate change and fundamentally for the Community Forest Network, necessitates significant investment in new woodland and forestry planting. For Sheffield specifically the potential for a joined up response to the public interest tree felling and replacement should have also created an additional opportunity for SYFP to work with SCC on tree planting. This is another lost opportunity.
The outcome of the Paris Climate Change talks and its new targets for carbon reduction is already starting to influence Government policy making and regional responses will be required to step up to the challenge. Sadly, the SCR response and my recent experiences at SCC do not inspire confidence that a well-informed response is in process locally. This has to be compared with some of the other city regions and core cities which are illustrating much more positive and informed leadership.

Johanna Mawson, Director South Yorkshire Forest, 29th October 2016

Sky Edge Sheffield

These are just some of the things which SYF sought to achieve and they look pretty sensible, important and desirable to me………

Underpinning the Vision are some key objectives including:

  • Working more in partnership with other organisations and communities on the low carbon agenda
  • Woodland and landscape as a part of natural flood risk management and climate change resilience
  • Promoting trees and woodlands as part of the local outdoor economy
  • Green infrastructure as a part of a sustainable transport network connecting urban and rural areas
  • Multi-functional green spaces in new housing districts

Underpinning the Vision are some key objectives including:

  • Working more in partnership with other organisations and communities on the low carbon agenda
  • Woodland and landscape as a part of natural flood risk management and climate change resilience
  • Promoting trees and woodlands as part of the local outdoor economy
  • Green infrastructure as a part of a sustainable transport network connecting urban and rural areas
  • Multi-functional green spaces in new housing districts

I wish all the SYF team the best of luck in their future careers.

For more information:

s_york_forest_plan

map

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6 Responses to The end of an era – Closure of the South Yorkshire Forest Partnership – SYFP

  1. Vivyan Lisewski-Hobson says:

    That’s really sad news.

  2. Technotronic says:

    FFS!

    With the closure of the National Urban Forestry Unit and greater reliance on voluntary organisations, this seems really stupid, as it was a good way of helping fulfil a range of international, national and local policy commitments. This is an utterly stupid, backward decision. However, it was reasonably foreseeable. Few will mourn the loss, as it never enjoyed widespread public support, largely because it remained anonymous to most people in Sheffield. Non-existent strategy, publicity or marketing. Virtually no media attention. This decision is no surprise. It’s a shame those running the show weren’t more open to involving the public than schmoozing with businessmen. I have always been a strong supporter (at least in spirit), but there was virtually no readily accessible, publically available information about the Partnership. I can’t help thinking that those involved in management should have pulled their finger out DECADES ago! >_<

    The irony is that this decision comes just WEEKS after the UN published its good practice guidance on urban forestry (FAO Forestry Paper 178), aimed at decision-makers:

    http://www.fao.org/forestry/news/92439/en/

    Anyway, now everyone's out of work, they will have oodles of time to comment on the draught tree strategy for the city, before the deadline for responses, later this month. For detail, see:

    https://www.stocksbridgecommunity.org/news/published-after-wait-14-months-sheffields-first-draught-tree-strategy-available-public-comment

  3. Technotronic says:

    Time for an FOI request 😉

  4. Technotronic says:

    MAWSON – POINTS VERY WELL MADE !

    I agree, the Green Commission was and is a sham. The idea was to produce a “go-to” document that could be used by PR people for media spin and to deceive the public – very much in the same way that Amey cobbled together a 5yr plan over the weekend before the meeting of full council on 3rd February, 2016, when the Nether Edge tree action group presented their 6,295 plus signature petition*
    ****************

    GOOD PRACTICE & SUSTAINABILITY – THE COUNCIL’S POLICY COMMITMENTS

    ECO-SYSTEM SERVICES = HEALTH, WELLBEING & PROSPERITY

    “We are very lucky in Sheffield to live in the greenest and most wooded city in Britain. This means that our city is not only beautiful, but has enormous advantages in terms of
    FLOOD RESILIENCE,
    HEALTH AND WELLBEING and
    mitigation for HARMFUL EMISSIONS.

    This hearing focussing on green and blue infrastructure will
    consider how Sheffield’s natural and planned assets can
    deliver ECONOMIC, ENVIRONMENTAL and
    SOCIAL outcomes for the city.”

    (Cllr Dunn, Chair of the Sheffield GREEN COMMISSION)

    Source: Sheffield City Council, 2015. Sheffield Green Commission’s fifth public hearing.
    Available at:
    http://www.sheffieldnewsroom.co.uk/sheffield-green-commissions-fifth-public-hearing/ [Accessed 8 June 2015].

    On 25th June, 2015, an earlier version of the SORT petition hand-out (distributed to every Councillor in the city) was submitted to the SCC GREEN COMMISSION as “evidence” for consideration by the Commission. An amended version was submitted, on 29th of June, 2015. On 30th June, 2015, acting “for the GREEN COMMISSION team”, Heather Stewart (SCC Project Officer:
    CAPITAL DELIVERY SERVICE DEPARTMENT) confirmed acceptance of the document (a PDF) as “evidence”. For a copy, visit:

    https://www.stocksbridgecommunity.org/news/streets-ahead-stocksbridge-trees

    On 26th February, 2016, SCC published ” SHEFFIELD’S GREEN COMMITMENT – THE FINAL REPORT OF THE SHEFFIELD
    GREEN COMMISSION “.

    EXTRACTS:

    “TRPLE BOTTOM LINE:

    ECONOMIC:

    GREEN SPACE CONTRIBUTES TO ECONOMIC SUCCESS BY PROVIDING HIGH QUALITY URBAN ENVIRONMENTS to live, work and play in.

    The Crown Estate’s £1.5 billion investment in an ecology masterplan for the West End of London demonstrates that World Cities recognise the economic asset of QUALITY URBAN GREEN SPACE.

    The £30m cost of the 2007 floods to Sheffield creates THE BUSINESS CASE FOR INVESTMENT IN FLOOD RESILIENCE THROUGH GREEN AND BLUE INFRASTRUCTURE.

    HEALTH/SOCIAL:

    Green and Blue infrastructure can reduce emissions and improve AIR QUALITY; contribute to sustainable urban COOLING and HEATWAVE MITIGATION; improve physical HEALTH including reducing body mass index and OBESITY; improve MENTAL WELLBEING; increase longevity; reduce isolation, reduce health inequalities and increase SOCIAL COHESION.

    ENVIRONMENTAL:

    Green and Blue Infrastructure provides ecosystems services for cities: FLOOD resilience, CLIMATE adaptation (sustainable urban cooling/reduction of urban heat island effect); AIR QUALITY mitigation and increasing BIODIVERSITY; CO2 sequestration.”
    (p.35)

    The three components of this “TRIPLE BOTTOM LINE” are represented by a Venn diagram. Guess what label is attached to the centre of the diagram, where all three circles overlap:

    **** “SUSTAINABLE”! ****

    The SCC report can be accessed via this link:

    https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/your-city-council/policy–performance/green-commission.html

    ***********************

    The Minutes of the Council meeting at which the Nether Edge petition was debated can be accessed at the following link, under the sub-heading “Minutes of Previous Council Meetings”:

    http://sheffielddemocracy.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=154&MId=6022

    Questions about trees are on pages 6 & 7 of the PDF. A redacted version of the petition, followed by the Council’s response, can be found on pages 18 to 24.

  5. Technotronic says:

    SUSTAINABLE TREE POPULATION MANAGEMENT

    “At the Second Ministerial Conference, held in Helsinki in 1993, ministers adopted Resolution H1, which included the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) definition of SUSTAINABLE forest management:

    ‘the STEWARDSHIP AND USE of forests and forest lands
    in a way, and at a rate, that MAINTAINS their
    biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality
    and their potential to fulfil, NOW and in the future,
    relevant ECOLOGICAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL FUNCTIONS,
    AT LOCAL, national, and global LEVELS, and
    that does not cause damage to other ecosystems’.”
    (Forestry Commission, 2011, p. 93)

    THIS IS THE DEFINITION OF SUSTAINABLE URBAN FORESTRY USED BY THE GOVERNMENT, set out in The UK Forestry Standard: The governments’ approach to sustainable forest management.

    “THE UKFS AND GUIDELINES ENCOMPASS THE ENTIRE FOREST
    ENVIRONMENT, which may include open areas, water bodies
    such as rivers, lakes and ponds, and shrub species in
    addition to the trees themselves. THEY APPLY to the
    planning and management of forests within the wider
    landscape and land-use context, and TO ALL UK FOREST TYPES
    AND MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS, INCLUDING THE COLLECTIVE TREE
    AND WOODLAND COVER IN URBAN AREAS.
    […]
    In assessing whether the Requirements
    have reasonably been met, the overall balance of benefits
    or ecosystem services will be taken into account.

    DEFINITIONS AND TERMS

    THE UKFS AND GUIDELINES APPLY TO ALL UK FORESTS. The term
    forest is used to describe land predominately covered in
    trees (defined as land under stands of TREES WITH A CANOPY
    COVER OF AT LEAST 20%)…”
    (Forestry Commission, 2011, p. 4)

    Reference:
    Forestry Commission, 2011. The UK Forestry Standard: The governments’ approach to sustainable forest management. 3rd ed. Edinburgh: Forestry Commission. http://www.forestry.gov.uk/ukfs

    *****************************************

    “Campaigners fighting tree felling in Sheffield have been calling for a city-wide tree strategy – but documents reveal one was drafted 14 years ago. …A consultation document for Sheffield’s Tree and Woodland Strategy seen by The Star, which was printed in 2001*, said

    ‘SHEFFIELD IS BLESSED WITH ONE OF THE FINEST URBAN FORESTS IN THE COUNTRY’ and ‘trees affect everyone’s lives.’ […]

    The council did not say why the strategy had not been adopted.”

    Reference:
    Beardmore, E., 2015. ‘Still room for compromise’ over Sheffield trees debate – says former MP David Blunkett.
    Available at:
    http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/still-room-for-compromise-over-sheffield-trees-debate-says-former-mp-david-blunkett-1-7340615 [Accessed 4 July 2015].

    * See: Lewis, D., Sellwood, N. & Page, M., 2001. Sheffield’s Tree and Woodland Strategy • Consultation Document. Sheffield: Sheffield City Council.
    Available at:
    https://www.stocksbridgecommunity.org/news/published-after-wait-14-months-sheffields-first-draught-tree-strategy-available-public-comment

    *******************

    Also, see the latest guidance from the United Nations (UN):

    FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION OF THE UNITED NATIONS: Salbitano, F; Borelli, S; Conigliaro, M; Chen, Y, 2016. FAO Forestry Paper 178: GUIDELINES ON URBAN AND PERI-URBAN FORESTRY. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
    Available at:
    http://www.fao.org/forestry/news/92439/en/

  6. Peter Wilkinson says:

    Very sad to see the demise of the SYFP as well as the disembowelling of a once fantastic City Council environment team, foolish short termism.

    Peter Wilkinson
    Former Director of Thames Chase Community Forest
    1990-1996

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