Countryfile turns spotlight on forests

3 April 2017

The Countryfile special on forestry highlighted very clearly that the modern forestry and wood-processing sector delivers multiple benefits for the environment, economy and society.

That was the verdict of Confor’s Chief Executive Stuart Goodall, who featured prominently in the BBC's flagship rural affairs programme last night.

Confor worked for more than a year to persuade Countryfile that forestry and wood-processing deserved a higher profile on the programme - and when the decision was taken to run the forestry special, Confor worked closely with the Countryfie team to set up several main features.

Stuart Goodall was interviewed in depth about the tree planting crisis in England and how Confor proposes to tackle it - by giving control over planting applications, funding and targets to one agency - the Forestry Commission. He told presenter Charlotte Smith the current three-agency system was failing and the Commission needed to “go back to its roots” - and take full responsibility for getting more trees planted.

Mr Goodall said the target of planting 11 million more trees in England in the lifetime of the 2015-2020 parliament was “incredibly modest”, but that we were still “miles behind” meeting it. Richard Jones, of Clifford Jones in north Wales, said he wasn’t confident there would be enough tree planting to secure the future of his saw milling businesses, and Charlotte Smith told Countryfile viewers: “If the timber industry is to survive, we need to plant more trees - and fast.” She also raised the prospect of deforestation in England if changes don’t happen quickly.

Andy Howard, project director at Doddington in Northumberland, where there are plans to plant 600,000 trees, explained his frustrations at the bureaucracy that threatens to prevent a scheme which has been welcomed widely at local level and would deliver multiple benefits to the community. “Two years in, I can’t plant trees - I have to prove planting a tree is not a bad thing,” he told the programme.

Ellie Harrison showed how the complex modern forestry and wood-processing supply chain is worth £1 billion to Scotland, employs 26,000 people and delivers multiple benefits. She followed the supply chain from Culbin Forest on the Moray Firth to BSW's Boat of Garten sawmill through to timber house builder Makar, near Inverness. The presenter highlighted the absence of waste in a modern sawmill, with every bit of wood used, thanks to hi-tech modern methods.

“Countryfile reported on our forests in a detailed and intelligent way which we haven’t seen in such depth on prime-time television before,” said Stuart Goodall. “They did not shy away from the big challenge - of how bureaucracy and policy failure has led to a planting crisis, and how we might address that.

"There was a real sense in the programme of modern forestry's importance for our rural communities across the UK. The clear message from Matt Baker at the start of the show was that 21st century forests and woodlands deliver multiple benefits for the environment, economy and society.

“And as the programme progressed there was a second clear message - the only way to guarantee these multiple benefits is to plant a lot more trees now.”

The link to the Countryfile forests special is here