Forestry in Wales ‘a top priority’

14 December 2017

Improving and expanding the woodland of Wales will be one of my top priorities, Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn told the Welsh Assembly yesterday. 

The Assembly debated the Branching Out report, which called for an urgent increase in the level of productive woodland creation in Wales, produced earlier this year by the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee (see Confor article here).

Chair of the Committee Mike Hedges reported that all the stakeholders consulted for this report had called for significantly increased planting rates. There was no shortage of finance or ideas, he said: forestry is profitable, and could have a significant role to play in regenerating former industrial areas, enabling farmers to access payments for ecosystem services, and building on what is already a significant part of the economy, already generating 10,000 jobs and half a billion pounds GVA.

Shadow environment spokesman David Melding emphasised this significant economic contribution, along with the multiple environmental and social benefits in absorbing pollution, creating habitat for plants and animals, providing flood management and enhancing recreation and tourism. He challenged the Welsh Government to improve on its track record of planting only a tenth of its target falling well behind Scotland in new planting, and far below European averages for tree cover.

Simon Thomas described how visiting a sawmill had demonstrated to him the real benefits of timber production, and called on the government to tackle the ‘underwooded’ state of Wales. Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy provides an opportunity to create a system where it is easier for farmers to benefit forestry.

Vikki Howells highlighted the potential of forestry to tackle health epidemics such as childhood obesity and poor mental health, and to provide high-quality housing.

In answering members comments, the Minister said that she would explore all avenues for speeding up woodland creation, including removing barriers to planting, collaboration between stakeholders, areas of presumption in favour of woodland creation, and forestry as a carbon sink. She informed the Assembly that she would be visiting Scotland in the New Year to learn how these challenges had been tackled there.

Confor Wales Manager Martin Bishop said, ‘There is an unprecedented level of interest in forestry in the Welsh Assembly, and the Minister’s comments are especially positive. We look forward to working with her in the coming year to get trees in the ground in Wales.’

Confor produced an infographic-style briefing for Assembly Members which was widely cited in the debate which you can download here:

Forestry in Wales (English version)                  Forestry in Wales (Welsh version)