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Remembering Mike Townsend

Author:  Arboricultural Association
  05/03/2021
Last Updated:  16/03/2021
Mike Townsend on a visit to Le Chêne de l’Entente in Compiègne

Mike Townsend (centre) on a visit to Le Chêne de l’Entente in Compiègne, France, with the Ancient Tree Forum.

The Arboricultural Association notes the loss of Mike Townsend with great sadness.

Mike was Operations Director of the Woodland Trust from 1993–98, its CEO from 1998–2004 and its Principal Adviser from 2004. He was also President of the Ancient Tree Forum (ATF) for many years. He spoke at our conference more than once. We have received the following tributes to Mike and his work.

Ted Green writes:

“Mike was CEO of the Woodland Trust at the turn of the century when his visionary leadership firmly established the organisation at the forefront of woodland conservation. At the time the trust was one of the leaders in calling for action to address climate change. The trust was also raising the profile of the importance of ancient woodland as a very special habitat and limited resource and was an early proponent of Lawton Principles in its landmark publication Space for Nature. Mike fully backed the development of the citizen science Ancient Tree Inventory as a way in which three charities could work together – the Woodland Trust, the Ancient Tree Forum and Tree Register of the British Isles – to help raise awareness of the richness of the British landscape for ancient and other veteran trees but also in paving the way for giving them greater protection and care.

“Mike was one of the most significant people in the history of the Ancient Tree Forum, and for a long time was the organisation’s President. He often attended ATF meetings including overseas trips such as to Fontainebleau. On one such meeting in 2000, at the end of the Veteran Trees Initiative led by Natural England, I asked him if he could help the ATF and without hesitation he said, “Of course.” That support included the full-time employment of an ancient tree specialist to act as the liaison person between the trust and the forum and to provide Woodland Trust support for joint activities.

“Mike was a superb leader, a great thinker and good fun to be with. From my personal point of view, over the years Mike’s support together with the Woodland Trust undoubtedly assured the future of the ATF as a force punching far above its weight in its efforts to increase the awareness of the importance of our ancient trees. Mike was a real tree man and is an incredible loss to the tree world. In my words, a true man of vision.”

Neville Fay adds:

“How the ATF was able to punch above its weight owes much to Mike having the vision and wisdom to see that “big” in charitable organisations was worthless unless it addressed how to amplify and build common purpose with coaligned small NGOs, which in turn allowed the small to develop and heighten impact without the burden of bureaucracy.”

Woodland Trust CEO Dr Darren Moorcroft said:

“Mike was Mr Conservation. Dedicated, passionate, enthusiastic, and incredibly well respected, both within the Woodland Trust and also our wider industry. I had the pleasure of working with him even before I joined the trust, where he demonstrated all of these attributes in pursuit of a shared ambition to see our landscapes more resilient, more wooded and more nature-rich. What he didn’t know about conservation wasn’t worth knowing and I know he was an inspiration for many.”


This article was taken from Issue 192 Spring 2021 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.