Confor engages with Minister and key MPs at Fringe event

Confor hosted a successful Fringe event and a dinner debate at the Conservative Party conference, explaining the modern face of the forestry and wood sector to key players - including forestry minister Rory Stewart, MP and all party chairman Chris Davies, MP.

The first-ever Confor fringe event at the conference was chaired by Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, with contributions by Rory Stewart, Confor CEO Stuart Goodall and Austin Brady from The Woodland Trust. 

Mr Goodall said the sector had to accept that it still had much to do to communicate the broad sustainability message of modern forestry effectively enough to politicians, officials and the public - and had to stress its positive, sustainable impact on environment and people as well as jobs and investment.

He highlighted the increasing collaboration between forestry businesses and environmental bodies like The Woodland Trust, a message reinforced by Austin Brady, who urged a move away from "adversarial" positions and called for a joint approach to rekindle the public's interest in trees and to develop a greater understanding of forestry: "Wood is all around us, in our homes and workplaces, and we need to appreciate its economic value."

Mr Goodall backed this message and added: "Forestry and timber is a unique sector. It delivers economic benefits and a range of environmental benefits, including biodiversity and carbon reduction, simultaneously." 

He also explained to Rory Stewart that forestry and farming could be integrated successfully in the right places. "We do not want to cover all the Cumbrian hills in trees - we want to encourage farmers to plant trees on more marginal land to give them a long term income and provide shelter for animals. When a farmer plants trees and stays on the land, that is a positive outcome for a rural community."

Mr Stewart said conversations about rural land use involved wide-ranging perspectives and it was vital that all interested groups came together to agree the long-term shape and health of rural communities.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan made a personal point, explaining that her husband's family had planted trees for generations and harvested them to build ships on the Tyne in the 1600s right up to providing biomass to heat their local village today. "They keep planting trees knowing that they won't see them grow to maturity but knowing their grandchildren will," she said.

At the conference dinner, Mr Goodall, Confor chair Athole McKillop and members from across the supply chain in England and Wales discussed a wide range of forestry and wood supply issues with Chris Davies, MP for Brecon & Radnorshire.

Mr Davies, who chairs the Westminster All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry, gave a strong commitment to support the sector and agreed to discuss specific actions to move forestry and timber issues up the political agenda.

Mr Goodall said: "We used both the dinner and the Fringe event to engage directly with key influencers in the Conservative Government. I was able to speak directly to Rory Stewart about forestry's role in a mixed-use future for rural Britain - and to understand more about his perspective - before the Fringe event, which then provided an excellent opportunity to debate how much forestry and wood can contribute to our rural communities.

"Rory Stewart is a passionate advocate for those rural communities and we are delighted that we will have a further opportunity to take the discussions forward with him at our Westminster conference in November."

Mr Goodall also praised the clear commitment of Chris Davies and Anne-Marie Trevelyan to the sector. He said: "These two new MPs are both very knowledgeable about forestry and wood and are committed to helping us to come up with solutions to tackle the challenges our industry faces. I have already arranged to continue these discussions and I am delighted that we are building meaningful and worthwhile relationships with several key MPs so early in the parliamentary term."

* At the Westminster conference on 10th November, Rory Stewart gives the keynote address and Anne-Marie Trevelyan will join a political panel also featuring Labour's new forestry spokesman Alex Cunningham and Calum Kerr from the SNP. Full details are here