Forestry Commission must "go back to roots" to tackle English planting crisis

21 March 2017

The Forestry Commission must return to its roots and be given full responsibility to reverse a tree planting crisis which threatens to plunge England into deforestation.

Confor called for the radical new approach today - the International Day of Forests - to end the “overly complex and bureaucratic” system for woodland creation which has brought planting to a modern-day low. 

A highly critical report on Forestry in England, published by Westminster's EFRA committee today, calls on the Government to “reinstate a one-stop shop for forestry grants on day one of the UK’s exit from the European Union”. 

"We supports the approach, but we think the Government should start the process now, giving the Forestry Commission full responsibility for the process, and for hitting the planting targets. Currently, they are being missed by a mile and no-one is taking responsibility," said Confor Chief Executive Stuart Goodall..

He continued: “We have an overly complex and bureaucratic system involving three bodies - Natural England, the Rural Payments Agency and Forestry Commission England - and it is simply not working. It is confusing for applicants and - as I told the EFRA inquiry - not fit for purpose.  

"The proof of policy failure is the disastrous year for tree planting in 2106 - the worst on record. 2017 looks little better and we face a real prospect of deforestation – something we associate with the Amazon, not England." 

Mr Goodall said the solution was to hand full powers for approving and funding new tree planting schemes to the Forestry Commission, set up in 1919 to plant trees. 

"Before it celebrates its 100th birthday, we need it to go back to its roots - and get trees planted. That includes taking full responsibility for planting targets,” said Mr Goodall. 

"It can be done; Scotland has a much more straightforward system and has taken further steps to streamline the application process. Its target is 10,000 hectares of new woodland every year, which it could hit in 2017, compared to England’s target of 1,000 hectares."

[more on the respective planting targets in this story

Mr Goodall said the Government should immediately set up a pilot project for the Forestry Commission to take back full powers in the north of England, where there is substantial opportunity for new planting. 

Confor’s approach is supported by MPs with an understanding of the forestry sector.  

Conservative MP Chris Davies, Chair of Westminster’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry (APPGF), and a member of the EFRA committee, said: “We need radical action on planting in England as the current system is clearly not working - and I support Confor’s proposal for a simpler and more effective system which hands full powers back to the Forestry Commission.” 

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Vice-Chair of the APPGF and Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, said: “There is real potential for planting in the north, including at Doddington in my constituency. The applicants have outlined an exciting, modern scheme which would see 600,000 trees planted to provide benefits to the economy, environment and local community, which is extremely supportive. However, the application is getting caught up in the kind of pointless, multi-agency bureaucracy which the Confor proposal would resolve.”

* Stuart Goodall served on the Independent Panel on Forestry, set up in 2011 following the public outcry at proposals made by the coalition government to sell off the public forest estate. It was tasked with making recommendations to government about forestry and forestry policy in the future. At the end of the panel process, Confor released a report, 7000 Green Jobs and Low-Carbon Growth, with Defra acknowledging that the figures used were justified by the evidence.