The AGREEMENT between FORESTRY ENTERPRISE and TREES FOR LIFE on work in the GLEN AFFRIC CALEDONIAN FOREST RESERVE
For three years, Trees for Life (TFL), a conservation organisation, and Forest Enterprise (FE) have benefited from a formal written agreement which specifies how TFL can contribute to the work of conservation and ecological restoration in Glen Affric. The formal agreement has superseded an informal arrangement, the weaknesses of which created tensions between two organisations, an idealistic non-govermental organisation and a government agency, each with its own distinctive ideology, sense of accountability and interest in woodland management.
The agreement is reviewed and re-negotiated annually and forms the basis of what both parties regard as very successful collaboration. It allows TFL to play an important role in the work of the restoration of the pine woods. FE benefit by being able to integrate what TFL can offer with their own inputs into projects in Glen Affric.
The Forestry Commission acquired Glen Affric in 1951. In 1959 it took a decision not to fell the woods of mature Scots pine - remnants of the ancient Caledonian Forest. This was the first step in a programme of conservation which continues today. A year later it enclosed an area of 1200 hectares. Since then the area of the Glen Affric Caledonian Forest Reserve has grown more than seven-fold and now extends to 9,000 hectares. It lies within the Fort Augustus District of FE and it is the Forest District Manager and his staff of professional foresters who negotiate and implement the agreement on an annual basis.
TFL was set up in 1987 as part of the Findhorn Foundation, and became a separate registered charity in May 1993. It exists to promote the re-afforestation of areas of treeless wild land, and has a vision of a future in which large areas of the Caledonian Forest are restored. The organisations name indicates its commitment to the whole environment and to the restoration in full of the ecosystems which it once supported. It sees the planting and regeneration of trees as a first step towards the return of species which once thrived in the pine forest but which are now extinct, for example the wood ant, which is no longer to be found in West Affric. Indeed, TFL has very ambitious long term goals: it would like to see the return of all the missing species, including the lynx, the bear and the wolf, although it accepts that these are very long-term objectives indeed. It also claims to be unique among conservation groups in Scotland in that it seeks to re-establish a large-scale wild forest "for the benefit of wildlife and the land itself." TFL has concentrated its work in Glen Affric and the surrounding areas but has identified the possibility of the creation of a Caledonian Forest Park Reserve centred on Glen Affric but extending outwards to cover much of an area of 600 square miles between the Contin-Lochcarron road in the North and the Invermoriston-Glenshiel road in the South.
2. The situation
TFLs work in Glen Affric began in 1989 when Alan Watson Featherstone approached the Forestry Commission with the offer of voluntary labour to carry out work in the pine woods of Glen Affric. The Forestry Commission accepted the offer, and suggested TFL might work on the felling of non-native species in selected areas in order to help the regeneration of pine and birch.
FE was also attempting to expand its programme of fencing to allow young trees to grow without being browsed by deer and also to allow regeneration, but was having difficulty funding all the projects it wanted to include in its work programme. However TFL, as a voluntary non-governmental organisation, was able to apply for grants from government agencies which FE, as a government agency, was not able to access. It applied to the Nature Conservancy Council for financial help for one enclosure project and was successful in obtaining a grant for 50 per cent of the cost, which allowed the project to go ahead. FE arranged contractors and the fence was completed in 1990.
At this stage co-operation proceeded on an informal basis. When TFL had some volunteer help available it would contact FE and ask what work it might do. This may have been an informal arrangement but it allowed TFL to contribute to the programme of fencing, with further fences being built in 1991 and the winter of 1992-3. These were built with money from several sources - from FE, from TFLs fund-raising activities, and from grants which TFL was eligible to apply for, from the Nature Conservancy Council (NCC) and from Scottish Natural Heritage (which superseded the NCC during this period).
During these years TFLs work programme gathered momentum as it succeeded in attracting volunteers who were prepared to spend a week in Glen Affric, participating in such activities as felling non-native trees, surveying areas for regeneration, collecting seed, planting trees, cleaning up litter and removing obsolete fences. As part of its efforts to raise funds and recruit volunteers TFL continued to publicise its work in Glen Affric. However FE became concerned that TFL appeared to be making claims about the management of parts of the Glen Affric pine woods for which in fact FE had responsibility. The upshot was that FE reminded TFL that it had no formal permission to work in the area, and severely restricted TFLs access.
3. Negotiating the Agreement
TFL was disappointed by this restriction, which it thought to be unjust. However, it sought to avoid a confrontational or antagonistic stance, and began to address the question of how it could get permission to continue its work in Glen Affric. It looked for support, and began lobbying for an improvement in the situation. For example, it encouraged people who had worked as volunteers in Glen Affric to write to Forest Enterprise to say how much they approved of what had been achieved and to ask why there were not to be further opportunities for collaborative work. TFL also took the matter up with the Forestry Commission Headquarters in Edinburgh, who confirmed that Forest Enterprise had a stated policy of working with volunteer groups.
For a while there was a certain hardening of attitudes on both sides, but both parties wished to end the impasse. TFL wanted to continue to work in Glen Affric and FE had an equally strong desire to bring the misunderstanding to an end, for its objectives had broadened during the 80s, and it was keen to develop the integrity of an organisation interested not simply in timber production but also in multi-benefit forestry, ecological management, and working with community and conservation organisations. The joint desire to end the dispute was the key factor in bringing it to an end.
After several months of discussions, things took a dramatic turn for the better in January 1993 when FE appointed a new Forest District Manager, Malcolm Wield, who made it one of his first tasks to contact TFL and suggest a meeting. To this meeting he took a draft written agreement, which TFL was happy to accept.
The rapid and uncomplicated acceptance of the agreement was helped by the fact that, despite the breakdown in their previous ad hoc relationship, the parties directly involved in reaching an agreement - and making it work - were for the most part already known to each other from their earlier contacts, and happy to continue to work together.
The agreement has much in common with other agreements which FE has drawn up with other parties (for example, it uses standard phrases and makes standard references to liabilities and bye-laws). However it was carefully designed to take account of the needs, interests and sensitivities of both parties.
The agreement (see Appendix 3.1) consists of two parts. The first is not a contract, but a statement of an agreement which has been entered into in a spirit of good will by both parties. It is a formalisation of an informal arrangement which is benficial to both parties, and is renewed annually and normally confirmed without major modification when the time comes for its renewal. It sets out the terms on which TFL can work in Glen Affric, outlines the practical activities TFL can take part in, and lays down certain conditions about publicity and other matters. It also makes provision for successive annual agreements to be negotiated on the basis of liaison meetings to be held three or four times a year.
The second part consists of a schedule which is re-negotiated annually and changes from year to year. Each new schedule sets out details of the agreed plan of work for TFL for the coming year. It include tasks which the forester for the area has selected from the management plan and which have already been discussed at the autumn liaison meeting at which TFL has indicated the number of volunteers they are likely to have available and the kind of work which they would be able to contribute to effectively (TFL do not make use of power tools). The schedule also specifies the maximum number of people who will be involved in these tasks and the times of year at which they can be carried out.
The liaison meetings, particularly the autumn ones, have become an important part of the process by which the agreement is renewed and up-dated. At the autumn liaison meeting FE shares ideas about the schemes it has in mind and makes a point of inviting TFL to suggest tasks which should be tackled in the coming year. TFL values this opportunity to make suggestions. It accepts that FE is anxious not to impose a one-sided agreement, and feels able to raise possibilities and accept explanations if its suggestions are not accepted.
Deciding the details of an agreed plan of work which is acceptable to both parties is a complex operation, for in addition to the wishes of the two parties a large number of other considerations have to be taken into account: for example the nesting times of birds which breed in Glen Affric, the interests of tenants and neighbours, the needs of long-distance walkers and of competitors in the annual Highland Cross, and the wishes of the Scottish Wildlife Trust and the Scottish Conservation Projects Trust which also have agreements with FE about work-projects in the area. In balancing the needs of these diverse groups FE must be seen to be even-handed. This imposes constraints not just on FE but also on TFL
4. Assessing the Agreement
Both parties feel the agreement has been successful and suggest a number of reasons. Firstly, the clarity of the agreement reduces opportunities for misunderstandings. The schedule makes detailed statements about such matters as the number of people days TFL will be able to spend on FE land in the coming year, the maximum number of people whom TFL will to permitted to bring in at any given time, and the periods of the year when work is to be done.
Secondly, the written agreement has also given both parties a chance to move away from ad hoc arrangements and develop a process which allows them to talk through each others objectives and gain an understanding of each others priorities, and hence free the relationship of the tensions which arise from poor communication and an imperfect understanding of each others point of view. Thus the agreement has made possible the development of a working relationship in which both can look to the longer term. As a result, both FE and TFL have been able to develop expectations of each other and to plan ahead on the basis of these with some confidence.
However, the framework which the agreement provides does not of itself achieve an sharing of views, let alone of interests, between the partners. Even when both parties readily subscribe to it, they may have different preferences, and may even develop different expectations, about, say, the next phase of the work programme.
Therefore fundamental to the success of the process is the good will of each party. TFL readily accepts the reasons for the constraints the agreement places upon it even if these mean that it cannot contribute in exactly the way that it would choose if it were given a free hand in Glen Affric. This readiness is based on TFLs realisation that it will not be able to play any part in the restoration of the Caledonian Pine Forest if it is unable to demonstrate an ability to work constructively on projects which are important to the other party in the partnership. FE for its part values the contributions that TFLs volunteer groups can achieve and the detailed specialist knowledge which TFL has accumulated. In addition, it wants to show that the policy of working in partnership with voluntary organisations (and community groups) is not just an aspiration but a reality.
Both parties pay tribute to the positive approach of the other. Each emphasises that the business of negotiating the work schedules each year is a constructive process despite the difficulties which inevitably arise from time to time.
At the liaison meetings ideas are put forward, needs explained, sources of confusion investigated and differences resolved. Over the longer term each partner has developed a clearer understanding of the needs and abilities of the other, and of the constraints operating on each. TFL has learnt much about the way FE works in the area and about the ways in which it is accountable to its superiors. TFL now accepts the corollary: if FEs hands are tied in a certain way, then its are too. FE better understands TFLs long-term aims and its desire to give its volunteers a very special experience during their working weeks in Glen Affric.
The relationship has also benefited from the improvement in levels of funding for ecological restoration following the EUs Habitats Directive published in 1992. In the late 80s FEs funds for restoration work were extremely limited. Within a few years, however, there has been a transition from a situation in which FE was being urged by TFL to undertake more conservation work (for which funds were not available) to one in which FE has been able to expand their programme considerably and are now in a position to invite TFL to assist it.
At first glance, the agreement - particularly the first part - might suggest it is very much a one-sided affair in which TFL has to agree to FEs terms. However, it does not mean that the benefits accrue solely to one party or that one party gains at the expense of the other. Instead, the agreement has brought a number of shared benefits which both sides acknowledge.
Firstly both parties benefit from a sense of confidence that each party values the contribution of the other and the mutual trust which develops from that. However, the agreement has not only allowed the two organisations to get to know and understand each other better, but has also removed the difficulties which both groups experienced as a result of the reservations expressed by some onlookers in the early days of TFLs work in Glen Affric. These have now ceased, but should they recur, FE can refer to the agreement as proof that FE still exercises responsibility for forestry in the area, and that TFL has not been given its head to pursue long-term objectives which have been seen as inappropriate or even threatening by some land-owning interests. TFL for its part can also disarm sceptical or prejudiced comment by pointing out that everything it does in Glen Affric has the approval of FE. Thus the record of successful collaboration to meet targets which are part of an approved management plan which derives from FEs policy is important to both parties.
Each party also gains its own benefits. The biggest single advantage of the agreement for FE is that it gives it control over the extent and nature of TFLs involvement in Glen Affric and provides proof that it is exercising its statutory responsibility for the area in an appropriate way.
However FE also benefits in other ways. FE now has regular access to extra practical help. There is no shortage of work since more funding has become available, and TFLs volunteer working groups mean more can be done than FE would be able to do if it had to rely solely on its own resources.
FE has also been able to benefit from the detailed knowledge which TFL has accumulated, and the ideas it brings to liaison meetings. TFLs enthusiasm and commitment mean it has been able to spend more time on the ground in Glen Affric than FE could have managed on its own. As a result, as Malcolm Wield of FE acknowledges, Alan Watson Featherstone and Adam Powell of TFL have accumulated an unrivalled knowledge of certain aspects of Glen Affric, for example aspen sites and ant-hills, which are an essential element of the forest ecosystem.
FE draws on this knowledge at the liaison meetings, and has also incorporated elements of it in the revised comprehensive Glen Affric Management Plan which has been drawn up since 1993 and which details, for each of 23 areas, objectives in woodland restoration and expansion as well as setting out ideas about long-term objectives (including the re-introduction of the wolf).
The relationship with TFL also provides professionally trained woodland managers who have years of experience in silviculture and forest operations with something which has not featured largely in their careers, but which they value - the experience of working with a voluntary organisation, of becoming more skilled in their approach and of having the satisfaction of seeing the relationship develop and become more productive over time.
For TFL the immediately obvious benefit is that it has been able to continue its work in Glen Affric - collecting seed, protecting seed sources, surveying and collecting information about new areas, planting and helping in other ways. It can now plan the work of raising funds and recruiting volunteers within the limits specified in the agreement with a view to the longer term, knowing that its role is valued and unlikely to be brought suddenly to an end.
Thirdly, TFLs detailed knowledge enables it to make suggestions at liaison meetings about possibilities or tasks which it considers to be important. In this way it can make an important contribution to the process by which FE makes decisions about which projects it brings forward to meet objectives in its management plan. This participation in FEs planning has another pay-off for TFL. By drawing attention to features such as aspen sites, TFL is able to identify more clearly projects on which its volunteers may be able to work in time to come.
The work which TFL has been able to continue in Glen Affric under the agreement has also helped TFLs attempts to build partnerships with other landowners in its pursuit of the ambitious goal of the re-afforestation of a large area of the Caledonian Forest. In initiating discussions with other landowners about regeneration and replanting schemes in areas adjoining Glen Affric, TFL has been able to demonstrate that it is prepared to work with statutory bodies within existing mechanisms. The most successful outcome of these discussions is an agreement with the National Trust for Scotland, the new owners of the West Affric Estate, which TFL itself would have liked to buy. Under the terms of this agreement TFL will manage large areas of the estate for re-afforestation and regeneration, with the help of a grant from the Chris Brasher Trust. TFL has also been employed to carry out a vegetation survey on an adjoining estate.
Indeed TFLs track record- which the agreement has allowed it to develop - is almost certainly a factor in its raising, with the help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the sum of £380,000 in an attempt to buy an estate, although it has yet to purchase land.
TFL has had to accept some restrictions and disappointments. It has still not been able to persuade FE to build a fourth fence which would complete the fences begun in 1990, which it sees as elements in an integrated plan. Nor has it succeeded in arranging as much work in the autumn as it would like. However it does not see the agreement as unduly restrictive. The limits it sets, for example on the number of working days, are not seen as severely limiting but as a realistic assessment based on both parties experience of volunteer groups in the past.
5. General Discussion
Both parties consider the agreement a success, and identify several key elements:
They also point to two other contributory factors: the large expansion in the programme of conservation in Glen Affric, and the personal contacts from work done in Glen Affric before the agreement.
What each party brings to the agreement is equally important, however. The success of the collaboration it makes possible is due not just to the two sides agreeing to work together, but also to the importance each party attaches to clear communication, to giving consideration to each others point of view, and to the sense of realism of the individuals on both sides who have the responsibility of making the agreement work.
Certainly, the Glen Affric agreement has proved capable of maintaining a harmonious relationship between two very different organisations - between an established government agency bound by a range of institutional procedures and a new charitable company with virtually no bureaucracy; between realists and visionaries; between pragmatists used to setting realistic targets which conform to the objectives provided for them by government to whom they are accountable and a youthful, expanding organisation with ambitious long-term goals, a readiness to experiment and no need to give an account of itself to a public paymaster or policy-setter.
TFL and FEs joint experience suggests that such an agreement could be used in a number of situations where a community or voluntary group wishes to play a part in the development of assets for which a government body has a statutory responsibility.
The written Agreement between Forestry Enterprise (FE) and Trees for Life (TFL) sets forth at some length the general principles controlling the activities of FE (an arm of the government) and TFL (a conservation organisation) in Glen Affric Caledonian forest reserve and specifies how TFL can contribute to the work of conservation and ecological restoration in Glen Affric. It does not take normal legal form.
Despite the non-legal nature of the drafting of the Agreement, it has been praised for its clarity. It is in fact a record of lengthy negotiations which appear to have continued well into the period covered by the Agreement. (Although for the calendar year of 1995, it was not signed on behalf of the two parties until the middle of the year.) Any arrangements for the future are likely to be reviewed and re-negotiated annually.
The Agreement is important to both sides in that it allows TFL to play a role in the work of restoration of the pine woods and FE to have regular access to extra practical help and funding (TFL, as a voluntary, non-governmental organisation, are able to apply for grants from government agencies which FE as a government agency, is not able to access).
The Agreement depends on the goodwill of each organisation. In passing it should be noted that it is not at all clear that the persons signing the document have the authority to sign on behalf of their respective organisations.
It seems that this Agreement is to be the basis of future arrangements. There is however a disclaimer in the final paragraph which states that "any offer of the grant of a new agreement ...... is at the sole discretion of the FC and is not guaranteed".
If the arrangements contained in the Agreement are subject to dispute, it is not at all clear that TFL would have (by this written agreement) an enforceable contract. It is likely that the terms of agreement would be secondary to the normal laws of landownership and to the statutory powers of the Forestry Commission.
For Further Information
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David Reid wishes to thank the following: