Lord Goldsmith calls for colossal endeavour to hit planting target

8 July 2020

Lord Goldsmith urged farmers and landowners to join a "colossal endeavour" to  deliver a huge increase in afforestation in England, to meet planting targets and deliver a wide range of economic and environmental benefits.

The Forestry Minister was speaking at a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and Tree Planting, where he outlined his ambitions for the England Tree Strategy, launched last month.

Watch the video of the webinar here

The Tree Strategy reaffirms the Government's target of 30,000 hectares of new woodland annually across the UK by 2025 - against current planting of just under 13,500 hectares a year.

"It will require massive collaboration and a sense of shared ownership - not just from the forestry sector, but businesses, local communities, farmers and landowners; all will have to join us in this colossal endeavour," Lord Goldsmith said. 

Part of this meant showing woodland creation was a "viable financial option" to farmers and landowners, he added. This meant we would need "more private investment to ramp up to the kind of place we need to get to and give support to the private sector to make land available for planting". He also stressed that tree planting need not be delayed by the creation of the new ELM (Environmental Land Management) scheme. "People will not lose out if they go early," he made clear. 

Lord Goldsmith said the devolved administrations would be crucial to meeting the target. Scotland is currently planting 80 per cent of all new woods in the UK and Plaid Cymru MP Ben Lake, Chair of the APPG on Forestry and Tree Planting, summarised the latest planting figures as: "Could do better, but Scotland top of the class". Mr Lake reiterated the willingness of politicians across the UK to support new planting. 

Lord Goldsmith said even with support from the devolved administrations, there would be a need for "an unprecedented increased in afforestation in England" to meet targets. 

The UK also needed far more home-grown timber, he said, highlighting that we currently import 80 per cent of timber for wood products - second only to China in net imports. 

He stressed the need to stimulate markets for home-grown timber  - and said this could help reduce the amount of unmanaged woodland in England (around 40%) when answering a question from Lord Carrington, a Vice-Chair of the APPG. 

"We want to see an expansion in the use of home-grown timber to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry," he said, urging everyone to respond to the Tree Strategy consultation which will "set policy to be felt by all of us for decades to come". There was no pathway to the net-zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050 that did not include tree planting, he insisted. 

However, he added: "Carbon is just one of the lenses through which we are mapping out our programme to plant 30,000 hectares of new woodland annually." Tree planting could also deliver on flood mitigation, for the economy and for people, who had shown an even greater appreciation of nature and woodland during the pandemic, he said. 

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, which organised the meeting, said Lord Goldsmith's presentation to the APPG "set out the major ambition for forestry and trees very well". 

"This Strategy comes at a really important time, with planning for a green recovery under way, and the opportunity to show the economic and environmental importance of trees and wood. It makes welcome reference to more planting, woodland management and use of home-grown wood. The three are totally inter-linked and we need this strategy to work with the grain of industry." ." 

[Lord Goldsmith later asked Confor for its specific thoughts on how the industry could support a green recovery and Confor will provide him with details of work already well-advanced on that subject]. 

Mr Goodall continued: "We want to expand native woodland - we want to expand all types of woodland and see more wildlife, but also more jobs and growth in fragile rural areas. 

"95 per cent of what we produce in the UK is softwood - we cannot just think about producing more hardwoods. We need to increase the sustainable use of softwoods as well if we are to make a real impact on domestic production.

"We must tackle those who peddle misconceptions; we are not planting on deep peat or planting monocultures - we are creating multi-purpose woodland to very high standards and delivering multiple benefits. Our analysis of the biodiversity benefits of productive forestry is out very soon." 

Mr Goodall said the Great Northumberland Forest project had the potential to be a trailblazer, in terms of planting all types of trees with a range of partners. 

Councillor Richard Wearmonth, Cabinet Member for Economy with Northumberland County Council, said the county had ambitions to plant a million new trees, but wanted to go far beyond that. The Northumberland Forest Partnership had brought together all those interested in more planting, he said, and he invited Lord Goldsmith to the county to look at its enornous planting potential. 

During the Q&A session, Lord Goldsmith said forestry and wood had to be recognised as an industry because we had to tackle the large gap between the supply of and the demand for timber in the UK. To achieve planting targets would require all kinds of trees to be planted, including productive forests, he added ("There is room for everything") - and the consultation would be looking for "measures and ideas to help the Government to stimulate the market". 

Baroness Young, Chair of the Woodland Trustm said it was vital that funds allocated to planting schemes could deliver multiple benefits, delivering for carbon and for wildlife.

* The England Tree Strategy consultation ends on 11 September. Find our more here and click on the link to respond.