Forestry and Flooding - Member Update

Confor has updated members on its work on forestry and flooding - following a very busy period which has seen the production of a new discussion paper, significant activity at Westminster and wide-ranging media coverage.

Andrew Heald, Technical Director for Confor, has led on the work with CEO Stuart Goodall, with media and political engagement support from David Lee, Neil Cuthbert and James Thomson.

Mr Heald: "It has been a very busy time but we are all very pleased that the message that tree planting has an important role to play - alongside other natural flood management measures and engineered solutions - really seems to be gaining acceptance with politicians."

He stressed that Confor would keep up the pressure on this issue - and that members' feedback was always welcome. Mr Heald continued: "We know tree-planting is not a complete solution and are aware of concerns that more research work is required. However, we believe that, in England at least, there has been sufficient research to support the case that tree planting has a part to play in reducing future flood risks.

"We also believe action needs to be taken as soon as possible to start building greater resilience in our uplands - and greater confidence in downstream communities. It is worth noting that the cost of just maintaining flood defences has been estimated at around £1 billion a year - which makes the urgency to deliver natural measures even greater."

Confor's recent activity has included:

* The production of a short discussion paper to inform the debate, called Forestry and Flooding. It is deliberately simple and species neutral, in an effort to explain the role of tree planting in reducing future flood risks to those not familiar with the subject.

* Presenting the report to The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry (APPGF) at Westminster on February 2nd, with the previous report by Confor and Forest Research. There was excellent debate at the APPGF, which was attended by Tom Nisbet of Forest Research and a wide range of other groups, including Thames Water, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, Forestry Commission England, Institute of Chartered Foresters and The Woodland Trust. The APPGF meeting was also attended by Neil Parish MP, Chair of Westminster's Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee. He asked some probing and relevant questions about the role forestry can play in reducing flood risk and invited Confor to present evidence to the EFRA committee inquiry into future flood risks.

* Preparing to give evidence to all the other relevant inquiries and reviews, including the National Flood Resilience Review led by Oliver Letwin MP. Confor welcomes very positive comments by Mr Letwin about the role of tree planting as part of a broader range of natural flood management measures and engineered solutions, which is summarised well in this blog by one of Mr Letwin's constituents. 

* Working closely with Chris Davies MP, Chair of the APPGF, who asked Environment Secretary Liz Truss in the House of Commons about tree planting and flooding (exchange below). Confor welcomes Ms Truss's positive comments.  

Chris Davies: I noticed a report in yesterday's Times that you have agreed that more trees should be planted in the Countryside Stewardship scheme on uplands, to mitigate future flooding.  Now, I declare I am Chairman of the all‑party group on forestry and I would welcome additional funding to deliver such planting.  Can I ask, when the planting goes ahead, that you also look at planting productive trees, softwood trees?  The industry is crying out for it; we are going to be short of it in 20 to 30 years' time.  Could that be fitted into the bill as well, please?

Elizabeth Truss: As you know, I am a big supporter of the forestry work and I recently attended the Grown in Britain event, where we celebrated the fact that more British timber is being used in the UK.  We are seeing more woods under management and that is all good news.  As I have said, this is very much part of the 25‑year environment plan.  We need to make sure we do it in a sensible way.  It is right in principle to look at how we manage catchments overall, what measures can be taken upland, what measures can be taken downstream to make sure we both slow the flow, but also put in necessary defences for towns and cities as well.  We are very interested in looking at all those ideas and finding innovative ways of sourcing finance to do that too.

Chris Davies: I take that as a very positive response for the forestry sector, thank you.

* Producing a modern visual presentation of the issue (in the form of a Prezi) which was shown to the APPGF and used by me at a major Public Policy Exchange conference on flooding in London. It was very well-received on both occasions.

* Continued activity in the media to spread the message about forestry and flooding. We responded to a story in The Times with a joint letter with The Woodland Trust, I had an article published in The Scotsman summarising our position and Stuart Goodall was quoted in this article in Horticulture Week. There was also a good article featuring the APPGF Vice-Chair Anne-Marie Trevelyan in The Journal and we had this story published on Politics Home which attracted lots of interest.

* Helping to facilitate TV coverage of the issue on Landward (BBC Scotland) and has passed our discussion paper to Countryfile ahead of its own coverage.

* Increased activity on social media. Confor @forestsandwood has attracted a very significant following on Twitter, enabling us to share reports and stories very quickly through the forestry community thanks to retweets and new followers.

* In Scotland, Confor has continued to keep politicians and stakeholders fully informed of its work, while in Wales, Martin Bishop has been typically proactive in sending our material to politicians and officials.