Woodland owners need guidance on tree disease threat and pest control
The future of Devon's woodlands could be at risk if forestry owners are not given clearer guidance on the twin threats of tree disease and grey squirrel damage.
That was the view of George Lopes, who was elected president of the Devon County Agricultural Association at its annual meeting at the weekend.
Mr Lopes, 67, is best known as an estate owner and for his work for rural organisations like the Country Land & Business Association, but says his first loves are commercial farming and forestry.
"I'm thrilled and honoured to have been asked to take on this role, because the work of the DCAA in developing and promoting farming and forestry is so close to my own heart," he said.
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"Forestry faces an uncertain future, with grey squirrels wreaking havoc with young trees on the one hand, and the ever-growing threat from tree diseases on the other.
"Forestry owners desperately need some clear guidance on how to protect their woodlands and what to plant to replace the trees that will inevitably be lost.
"The future of Devon's woodlands is at stake, yet several of the organisations which are supposed to be looking after them seem to be interested only in promoting public access to scrub woodland. If the authorities want just Douglas fir in future, then so be it. But Devon is going to look very different and it won't be a pretty sight."
Mr Lopes is more confident about prospects for farming, and believes that the upturn in the industry has been mirrored in the agricultural content of the Devon County Show.
"It has been really encouraging to see major players in the agricultural supply trade returning to the show, and with the even stronger support that we've been getting from the farming community, I'm confident that trend will continue.
"Devon is first and foremost a farming county, and the DCAA and its show have an absolutely vital role to play in developing the industry on the one hand, and showing it off to the general public on the other, not least through the promotion of local food and drink, which I believe the Devon County Show does better than almost any other."
Mr Lopes was born on the family estate at Maristow, near Plymouth. After a short spell in the City, he qualified as a chartered surveyor at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester. He started farming on his own account in North Wiltshire in 1968, and worked in estate management for the agents, Cluttons.
He bought the Gnaton Estate near Yealmpton in 1976. He married Sarah Astor in 1975.