Contact the Author |

About the Author

Alastair Fraser was a professional forester in the United Kingdom and dozens of other countries for fifty-five years before retiring. He earned a Bachelor of Science in forestry from Aberdeen University and a doctorate from Edinburgh University, where he studied the interaction between climate and forests. He is the co-founder of LTS International, a forestry consulting company, and is also the author of the textbook Making Forest Policy Work.



Blueink Reviews

At first glance, Alastair Fraser’s Forestry Flavours of the Month appears to be a dry but knowledgeable discussion of the changes in forestry from 1960 to the near present. But soon readers learn that it is tempered by a more personal vision that takes it well beyond such limitations.

Fraser, who holds a doctorate from Edinburgh University and has been a forester for 55 years, relays his information by describing the projects and studies wherein he served as a consultant. Thus, in Fraser’s relation of one study undertaken for the United Kingdom’s Forestry Commission, readers learn how trees align their branches and leaves with the direction of the wind in order to withstand wind loads. In the author’s account of another study, commissioned by the Asian Development Bank, readers discover how a corridor of trees planted along a busy highway can “sequester enough carbon dioxide to more than offset that generated by the traffic.”

The information conveyed here is comprehensive. Topics range from the best practice for forest management, to types of products made from wood, to supply and demand, to biodiversity and global warming. Each chapter is supported with facts, statistics, and reasoning. But what lifts this book from textbook tedium are the flashes of passion that Fraser displays regarding workers exploited by the powerful, forests plundered by corrupt politicians and industrialists, and the slipshod management that has allowed some of the world’s forests to degrade to the point of no return. Fraser’s concern is supported by years of hands-on observation and it limns the book like gold running through quartz.

Although the sequential nature (study after study) of the book serves to demonstrate how the approaches to forestry have changed over the years, it also tends to blur the focus a little, leaving readers to accumulate evidence that might have been sharper with a more thematic approach. Hopefully this diffusion will not deter his audience, as this is a book well worth reading.

Bookbag Review of Forestry Flavours of the Month

Alastair Fraser’s experience of forestry spans more than five decades and having the benefit of the long view he’s ideally placed to consider the changes which have occurred over the course of his career. He also has the ability, not as common as it ought to be amongst professionals, of being able to look at what he does both from the point of view of the business ”and” the people who work in it and are affected by it. There’s a lack of tunnel vision too: he sees what’s happening in forestry both in the narrow focus and where it sits globally so far as economics and politics are concerned.

The book doesn’t set out to be autobiography, but rather, as Fraser himself says, to reflect ”on some of the topics that I, as a forester working internationally, have had to deal with and interesting or important issues raised by many of the assignments.” I came to the book after reading about ”trees” and feeling that I needed to know more about how they were managed and their place in the great scheme of things. I ”did” wonder if I might have made a mistake when I read the foreword by Javed H Mir (former director, Southeast Asia Department, Asian Development Bank) which gave the impression that the book would appeal most to professionals, but I’m glad I persevered as the book is completely accessible. It has the rigour which is going to be informative for the professional but the approachability which the layman appreciates.

The title of the book comes from Fraser’s perception over the decades that what’s been seen to be important in forestry has changed on a regular basis, sometimes because of changing economic or environmental factors but often because of political fads which alter as new brooms come into power. He’s seen many pass and occasionally come back into fashion. The ”flavour” which struck me as being most important, probably because I saw it as affecting everything, was sustainability, which doesn’t always attract political favour because future sustainability can mean higher energy costs now. Fraser considers the question from all angles, from giving details of how to compute the allowable annual harvest through to the value of forests to indigenous populations, who rarely benefit from the wealth which frequently goes to businesses and countries far away.

He’s of the opinion that belief in global warming is steadily declining, but he’s eloquent on the subject of the liquidation of forests and the consequent environmental impact. He’s equally good on ways in which global warming could be restricted ”and” dealing with the consequences. I’ve always been slightly woolly about carbon sequestration but I now understand how it works as far as the tree is concerned and I’m convinced that it has the potential to be seen as a crop. No – I’m not going to explain – you should read the book.

As well as insight into the major ”flavours” I came away with a wealth of interesting facts. Did you know that more wood than tobacco goes into the manufacture of cigarettes? Or that if you double wind speed the drag on a tree also doubles, but that a doubling of wind speed creates ”four times” the drag on a building? Trees have adapted: as so often, nature protects the landscape – it’s man who puts it at risk. I was fascinated by how wood chips for whisky distilleries are costed and worried when I realised that ‘wood from certified sources’ might not be the guarantee that I’ve always sought.

Whilst the ”source” of the wood is important it’s also essential to establish how much of the wood is used and how much is wasted. I was particularly impressed by the way that Fraser could give insight into businesses in a clear and concise way: I now know a lot more about the way that pulp mills work and why it’s important that oxen, horses and elephants are used in forests rather than large machinery.

And what does Fraser think will be the next ‘flavour’? He’s convinced that it will be food security: what he has to say about the need to keep land forested whilst expanding food production is particularly thought provoking.

Occasionally I read non-fiction books and come to the conclusion that every piece of available knowledge has been shoe-horned in, but in ”Forestry Flavours of the Month” there’s a feeling that the author has a far greater depth of knowledge with which to back up what we’ve been told: it makes reading a pleasure. I also have a way of judging the impact of a non-fiction book (or rather my family have) and that’s the amount of information which I feel compelled to share with them. This time it’s been massive and they’ve been interested too, particularly when I pointed out the trees which have been lost from the surrounding hills over the four decades we’ve lived in this valley and the impact which this has had on flooding. It’s a book with a global story and local implications.

Kirkus Review

A retired forester recounts his experiences working with trees and the logging industry around the world.

In this blend of memoir and science, British author Fraser (Ghosts on the Somme, 2016, etc.) combines his personal experiences with broader economic, environmental, and policy questions to tell a story of forest management from the 1960s to the present. The author has worked with trees in Suriname, Nigeria, Thailand, and Indonesia, among other places, and offers travel stories in addition to details of the work assignments that brought him to the far-flung locales.
His variety of professional experiences gives him the knowledge to critique forestry policies around the world as well as those of other related sectors, from poverty elimination to climate change strategy. The book presents a coherent, levelheaded take on sustainable forest management and on the role that forestry experts may play in policy discussions. To that end, Fraser offers examples from his own work and concrete recommendations for the future; for example, he
notes that small logging enterprises and large multinationals may both succeed, but “intermediate scale” operations lose out in a globalized market. Although the narrative occasionally gets waylaid by overly complex sentences (“This first part of this story is more about Suriname than the sustainable management of tropical forests, but the reason for being in Suriname was to work out how to improve the management of their forests and that will come later”), it succeeds in
engagingly presenting a unique perspective on global issues. Although the author is clearly well-versed in the details of forestry, he avoids jargon and provides clear explanations of key concepts, making the book accessible to nonspecialists. Fraser also does an excellent job of painting a vivid picture of the early decades of his career, when he tracked the paths of logging trucks without the aid of GPS and evaluated Soviet furniture manufacturing during the days of glasnost in the late 1980s.

An accessible combination of policy analysis and reminiscences from a half-century–long forestry career.