Confor responds to RSPB report

11 March 2020

Confor was contacted by a number of members and other forestry stakeholders, following an article which appeared in The Guardian on Tuesday, based on a new report by the RSPB. 

There was considerable anger and frustration that the article (and the report) took a negative view of the role that productive forestry can play in tackling the climate crisis, based on what many felt was a partial analysis.  

Confor CEO Stuart Goodall will take the issue up with the RSPB privately, and the media team has contacted The Guardian reporter to ask why the forestry sector was not given any kind of right to reply in the story. 

Mr Goodall has also written to The Guardian, as has Paul Brannen, a former Labour MEP and member of the EU Agriculture Committee, who said it was "an unhelpful contribution to the current and critical debate on land use in the context of the climate crisis, which "undermines the fully justified scientific argument for a significant increase in commercial conifer planting in the UK".  

Mr Brannen's letter concluded: "Frankly there is little point in saving the curlew’s habitat if as a consequence we lose the battle against climate change.  Time the RSPB acknowledged the bigger picture." 

Mr Goodall said: "Despite our best efforts to collaborate with the RSPB and other environmental organisations, there still seems to be an unwillingness to recognise the important role of large-scale productive forestry as part of a wide-ranging package of measures to remove atmospheric carbon - and remove it quickly, and to benefit wildlife.  

"To me, this is selective environmentalism. It also implies that we should continue to use materials like concrete and steel, that have high embodied carbon, and plastics or simply offshore our responsibilities rather than grow more at home against the very high bar of the UK Forest Standard. 

"We are not prepared to be criticised for practices that were last used more than three decades ago - or for productive forestry to be rubbished without a proper examination of the facts." 

Mr Goodall highlighted the comments of Sir Harry Studholme, who recently stepped down as Chair of the Forestry Commission, who said in a recent Guardian article that conservationists’ hostility towards non-native conifers was “terribly problematic in climate change terms”, with fast-growing conifers able to sequester more carbon than native deciduous trees. 

Mr Goodall’s full letter said:  

Dear Letters Editor, 

I'm very concerned by the inaccuracies in your article Trees on commercial UK plantations not helping 'climate crisis'. [March 10th].

Government policy is based on advice from independent organisations like the Committee on Climate Change, who examine all the evidence on carbon sequestration to take a full life-cycle picture, which is vital.

The full evidence on the carbon benefits of fast-growing trees does take into account all the uses of wood harvested in the UK (both long-term and shorter term) and recognises that the trees are replaced with new fast-growing trees. 

Wood burned for energy replaces non-renewable fossil fuels and wood used, for example in a fence, does not somehow magically give up its carbon to the atmosphere when that fence is replaced (with more wood). Typically, it is re-used and recycled as, for example, Oriented Strand Board and chipboard which are used for furniture and flooring in our homes. This adds further to the positive carbon story and is an exemplar of reuse.

It is irresponsible to raise the spectre of land management practices, specifically planting on ground containing deep peat, which ended decades ago - and which will not and cannot happen again.

The claims that newly-planted native woodlands are much richer in wildlife than modern forests planted to produce wood and designed against very high standards is also not supported by the evidence.

If we are to be serious about tackling climate change and benefiting nature, we need to base policy on the full suite of evidence and embrace positive solutions.  

Regards, Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive, Confor: Promoting forestry and wood