Transforming lives and landscapes with trees

Transforming lives and landscapes with trees

Trees have a unique place in the hearts of all human communities in the world - past and present.

"Over the last 10,000 years the world has lost one-third of its forests - an area twice the size of the USA."

My 2019 Churchill Fellowship findings underlined to me just how multifunctional woody perennials are….they can be the great providers for nature and humanity. There is no doubt we all have an interest in having more trees for a wider society benefit, for fuel, shelter, food and fibre, the list goes on.

Globally, land-use is under great scrutiny and with climate change, increasing populations plus a biodiversity crisis, the need for action is real and rising. Over the last 10,000 years the world has lost one-third of its forests - an area twice the size of the USA.

Re-wilding and regenerative farming fit well with agroforestry (mixing farming and forestry) and the grant I received from the Churchill Fellowship Activate Fund, is helping me to showcase that.

Agroforestry may be a new term but in essence it is putting trees in, and amongst, livestock or crop farming and almost magically, through sustainable principles, farmers get more of both elements. Communities are impacted by deforestation, particularly if they are very much in need. Take the example of some of the Kenyan families I got to meet as part of my Churchill Fellowship travels, they utilise charcoal made from cutting down trees locally and this has resulted in 11% tree loss in the last 20 year. Desperation is driving environmental damage.

I have always had a passion and commitment to innovation in forestry. Thirty years ago, when I was farming 156 Hectares (Ha) of tenanted arable land in Northumberland, I planted 25 Ha with deciduous trees and at the same time carried out a carbon foot-print exercise on my farm. And in 1995 my farm became a Forestry Authority Centre of Excellence. More recently, I have completed a ten year role with the Forestry Commission and my latest venture is setting up my own company, Chestnut Bio. Through this company my mission is to create natural products for forestry from sugar that can replace fossil-based plastics, that are non-toxic, compostable and biodegradable. At a professional and personal level, I want to see nature-based solutions to the world’s big audacious challenges.

After completing my Churchill Fellowship, I applied to the Activate Fund and was awarded funding to look at embedding agroforestry further into UK farming systems which included commissioning a report by Energy Systems Catapult which has been published recently. As part of this work I took the opportunity to go to a very pertinent conference about innovation in forestry. Wood Innovation Day 2023 in Wittstock in Northern Germany is attended by startups and experts from the forestry and timber industry, I spoke at this event in June this year and had the chance to look around a chipboard manufacturing plant employing 1,000 people and the 3,000 plus Ha of forest managed by the local authority.

My reflections from the conference about innovations in forestry are:

- The UK is only 20% self-sufficient in timber and there is a lot to learn and appreciate about trees and what they can give society (directly and indirectly) through natural capital, or so called nature based solutions. From sucking up carbon dioxide and pollution; creating oxygen and making a habitat for literally hundreds of species.

- 51% of all European produced timber from forests gets burnt in power stations. Without carbon capture that makes little sense as lignin, cellulose and many other materials could be used in a new bio-economy as the oil-based economy wanes.

- Technology can stop damage and create goodness. For example, learnings taken from the event include:

My aim is to bring a forestry innovation event to the UK at a cost of £20,000 because there are many nature based solutions to be created and knowledge transfer is the starting point…..very much a Churchill Fellowship principle I have learned; for which I am forever grateful.

For further information, please contact Ian or visit


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


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