Forestry and Timber: Productivity and Public Good in a post Brexit World

13 April 2018

The UK government is consulting on proposals for future land-use policy in England.

Confor welcomes references to timber production and forestry as well as many of the proposals, including those for:

  • an alternative to Direct Payments which disadvantage forestry
  • excellence in plant health standards
  • increased productivity and competitiveness
  • the principles of ‘public money for public goods’ and ‘polluter pays’.

However, we are concerned that the proposals are framed in such a way as to reinforce the division between farming and other land uses, and the assumption that farming is the only form of productive land use. This risks creating a new policy framework in which it is very difficult for farmers to integrate forestry or other activities into their business, where timber is not regarded as a key crop, but merely as a by-product of environmental measures.

We urge Confor members to respond to the consultation. The briefing below provides some more information on Confor’s position and how you can get involved. 

Why forestry and timber?

Once established, modern forestry is profitable and provides a wide range of enduring benefits. Forestry and timber is a £2bn UK industry, prices are at record levels and the global forecast for future decades is for demand for wood to rise and rise. Wood is the ultimate sustainable and versatile material, able to replace concrete, steel and oil with a carbon-capturing, renewable and non-polluting alternative. Forestry is also one of the most sustainable land uses, enhancing natural capital and supporting biodiversity.

Where are we now?

The UK has internationally low levels of forest cover, at 13% barely a third of the European average, which in the past 20 years have increased by less than 0.7%. The UK is the second biggest net importer of timber in the world, after China. This puts us in a fragile economic and environmental position, at the mercy of global trade, at risk of missing our climate change commitments, and lacking the raw material to participate in the development of the bioindustries on which much of our future economy will rely for everything from housing to high-tech manufacture.

Although established forestry is a lucrative asset, woodland creation is a long-term investment, with 35 years from establishment to final harvest. EU CAP subsidies have disincentivised such investment: to upfront establishment costs of around £2,500/hectare can be added lost income from CAP Pillar 1 of around £7,000/hectare. This loss of access to future annual payments discourages farmers from planting trees.

At present, tree planting and some limited support for woodland management is co-funded through CAP Pillar 2, supplemented in some parts of the UK by environment funding which helps to compensate for the loss of Pillar 1. After we leave the EU in 2019, this funding has been guaranteed until the end of the current UK parliament (2022).

Where do we need to be?

Forestry is a positive and important opportunity for many, especially marginal, farmers. It is a growing industry that provides comparatively well-paid jobs and which, along with wood production, will be at the centre of a future low-carbon society. It is vital, therefore, that forestry is included in future UK land-use policy. Unfortunately, from the titles of the ‘Agriculture Bill’ and ‘food, farming and the environment’ command paper, to the omission of any non-farming evidence such as Confor’s Common Countryside Policy in the summary of stakeholder proposals, to the detailed comparisons between sectors in the accompanying Evidence Compendium, it is clear that forestry and wood production have been overlooked as have the numerous other forms of non-farming rural land-use.

Confor has identified seven steps the government needs to take:

  1. Land use: The bill must be re-named the ‘Land-Use bill’ or ‘Countryside bill’.
  2. Timber: Figures on timber must be included in the detailed comparisons of productivity, profitability, employment, trade and professionalism, alongside the other crops and livestock data in a new edition of the Evidence Compendium which is then utilised when future policy decisions are made.
  3. Public goods: The Evidence Compendium must also integrate analysis of current and potential delivery of public goods (carbon balance, pollution, biodiversity, landscape, recreation, culture and community) into the sectoral analysis to ensure that future funding for public goods is well-targeted.
  4. Links to wider public policy: Land-use policy is intrinsically linked to delivery of climate change mitigation targets as well as the BEIS Clean Growth Strategy, and this must be factored in to the bill. This is where forestry comes to the fore, with growing trees sequestering carbon and wood products both locking that carbon up as well as replacing more carbon intensive materials.
  5. Policy and funding: The above measures will provide a basis to ensure that forestry and timber is included fairly in any future policy and support structure for land-use, enabling farmers and landowners to integrate timber production into their business model as part of a clear strategy to improve profitability and environmental performance.
  6. Devolution: As many of the questions in the consultation will impact the whole UK and not just England, including section 13 on devolution, the consultation must be open to responses from all parts of the UK.
  7. Integrated, diverse rural communities: The principles of looking beyond farming should apply not just to forestry, but to the many other rural enterprises which are excluded from the proposed ‘Agriculture Bill’.  

We urge all Confor members to respond to the consultation

The consultation page is here where you will find:

  • The command paper (setting out the government’s proposals), ‘Health and harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment in a Green Brexit’
  • The summary of stakeholder proposals already considered
  • The evidence compendium

You can respond either by email to, or using the online form to answer the questions listed in the command paper.

The deadline is 8 May 2018.

You will also have an opportunity to comment on Confor’s response:

  • 20 April 2018 - Confor draft response will be circulated to members
  • 27 April 2018 - deadline for member responses 


Confor's Common Countryside Policy.

Confor’s Farm Forestry Report

Confor – promoting forestry and wood ( is a not-for-profit membership organisation for sustainable forestry and wood-using businesses. Confor represents the whole forestry and wood supply chain and focuses on strategic issues vital to the success and sustainable future of the sector.