Manifestos show forestry 'must keep pushing its message'

31 May 2017

The manifestos of the main parties for next week’s UK general election show that the forestry sector has to continue pushing its message as a significant rural industry delivering multiple benefits.

Stuart Goodall, Confor’s Chief Executive, said there had been major progress in explaining the positive forestry and wood story to UK politicians in the last two years – including a major committee inquiry and a Westminster Hall debate – but the manifestos showed the pressure had to be maintained.

Mr Goodall said: “In party manifestos we’re looking for recognition of the important role that forestry and woodland expansion can play in thriving rural areas, backed up by ambitious goals linked to specific policy objectives – meeting climate change targets, mitigating flood risks and providing a sustainable material for the houses the UK badly needs.

“The manifestos show we must keep pushing the message that we are a £2 billion industry supporting 80,000 jobs across the UK, with real opportunities for growth.”

The Conservative Party manifesto says:

"In addition to the 11 million trees we are planting across our nation, we will ensure that 1 million more are planted in our towns and cities, and place new duties on councils to consult when they wish to cut down street trees.” It also pledges to “continue to ensure that public forests and woodland are kept in trust for the nation, and provide stronger protections for our ancient woodland."

Mr Goodall said the commitment to honour the 2015 pledge to plant 11 million trees by 2020, and to add to it, was pleasing, but there was much work to do to as the previous government was way off target. He added: “Without a clear link to policy objectives, such as meeting climate change targets, building new homes, and the commitment to leave the environment in a better state than the new government inherited it, there is no clear rationale behind the target that can be used to help drive action to meet it.”

The Labour Party manifesto says:

"We will work with farmers and foresters to plant a million trees of native species to promote biodiversity and better flood management. Unlike the Conservatives who attempted to privatise our forests, Labour will keep them in public hands."

Mr Goodall welcomed the link between tree planting and flood management, but added: “Otherwise, this is very unambitious and shows a lack of understanding of the value of modern productive tree planting both from a water management and biodiversity perspective, and ability to deliver wider policy.

The most ambitious planting targets come from the Liberal Democrats, whose manifesto says the party would

"reverse the current sharp decline in the rate of woodland creation by aiming to plant a tree for every UK citizen over the next 10 years, and protect remaining ancient woodlands."

Mr Goodall said: “This is a very positive commitment,  recognising the sharp decline in planting and proposing an ambitious solution. A tree for every UK citizen over the next decade would mean around 65 million trees, so 6.5 million every year, or 32 million-plus in five years, compared to Labour's 1 million in 5 years and the Conservatives' 11 million.” Again, it would be positive to link the target back to other policy objectives, and it is vital that the planting includes productive species.

 The SNP manifesto promises that the party

“will be a strong voice for our farmers and crofters, our food and drink sector, our fishing and fish processing industries, our billion-pound forestry sector – and all the tens of thousands of jobs, businesses and livelihoods that depend on a strong, sustainable and productive rural economy.” It continues: “We will also press for clarity and certainty over existing funding. Forestry grants for 2019 and beyond must be guaranteed now to allow investment and planting decisions to go ahead.”

 Mr Goodall said: “Forestry has moved up the political agenda in Scotland. However, as it doesn’t have an EU Brexit angle, its profile in manifestos is often lower than would otherwise be the case. That said, it is good to see forestry clearly included in SNP thinking on building a ‘strong, sustainable and productive rural economy’. The point about guarantees of future funding is one that Confor has highlighted repeatedly.”

 The other GB parties make little reference to forestry, with The Green Party using a picture of trees on the front of its manifesto, but making no mention of forestry. Plaid Cymru has an action plan with the closest relevant action being to “fight to ensure every penny of European funding, including farming payments, is replaced by the UK Government”. UKIP says: “Current legislation does not go far enough in protecting natural woodland habitats."