MP says more focus needed on productive planting

3 November 2021

The chairman of a parliamentary committee looking into tree planting has said there needs to be a stronger focus on productive forestry. 

Neil Parish MP, Chairman of the EFRA (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) committee was speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and Tree Planting - where he also expressed concerns about the need for more woodlands to be managed. 

The EFRA committee is conducting an inquiry into Tree Planting and Woodlands and Mr Parish said he wanted to hear more about the nursery sector and the challenges over supplying enough trees to meet the UK's ambitious targets. The aim is to plant 30,000 hectares of new woodland annually by 2024-5 against current levels of around 13,500 hectares. 

The meeting - due to be held at the Houses of Parliament but moved online after a rise in Covid-19 cases at Westminster - also heard from Deidre Brock, a Scottish Nationalist Party MP, about Scotland's success in pushing up planting rates. 

She noted that 80% of all UK planting was happening in Scotland and praised positive partnership working between the Scottish Government and Confor, as well as environmental organisations and communities.  

Ms Brock said Scotland had done so well because of these partnerships - and because its forestry policy was based on "genuine sustainable commitment, financial support and long-term planning". 

Asked during a Q&A session if he thought England also had these factors in place, Neil Parish said things were getting better. "The grant scheme is now more attractive and there is more joined-up thinking," he said. "The challenge for Defra and others is to get the commercial element in.  

"We target public access and the environment, but trees are also a crop and we need to grow them and harvest them and work out a long-term strategy as well as a short-term one." 

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, had opened the meeting by repeating his call for the UK to take more responsibility for growing its own wood - rather than continuing to import 80% of the wood products it uses. This meant more productive forestry. 

He welcomed the Glasgow Leaders' Declaration on Forestry and Land Use, signed earlier the same day, but stressed: "Responsibility for global forests must start at home.  

"If the UK Government doesn’t do more to produce wood here in the UK, it signals its intent to export the UK’s own forest footprint to other countries – that isn’t the global leadership the planet needs. 

"We need to plant more trees in well-managed, modern, mixed-species forests - to create rural jobs, support the fight against climate change and deliver benefits for people and wildlife at the same time. 

"If it did this, the UK Government could start to claim a genuine leadership role in the future of our global forests." 

APPG Nov 2021

APPG Chair, Ben Lake MP, highlighted this as one of two key themes. 

"Modern forestry is not about either-or choices [between different types of tree or between economic and environmental benefits], and the UK must take more responsibility for producing its own wood," he said. 

Sir William Worsley, Chair of the Forestry Commission, stressed the need to find the right planting solutions for different parts of England - and the need to build strong partnerships. He highlighted the significant opportunity to plant productive forestry in areas like Northumberland, and praised the creation of the Northumberland Woodland Creation Partnership to build consensus to do this. 

Sir William highlighted the importance of a new fund to support nurseries to provide the trees the UK needs to plant and the vital need to manage our woodlands more effectively. 

Neil Parish has earlier picked up on management, relating it back to his time as a Member of the European Parliament. "There is often little management done by people who buy woodlands," he said. "We have much more to learn from Europe on this." 

Deidre Brock noted that while Scotland now had 19% forest cover (against a UK-wide average of 13%), this was still way below the European average of about 38%. 

Caroline Ayre, Confor's National Manager for England, said: "We must increase UK timber production over the coming decades; there just isn’t enough wood, not just here, but in the world - and it's getting worse. So I want to see the UK put on its big boy pants and take responsibility for growing more of its own wood - not relying on others. 

"We need a mosaic of new planting of all types, but we certainly need more planting for timber production…..and this includes an industrial strategy that shows that the UK is finally ready to take greater responsibility for growing its own timber. Confor and its members will be right at the heart of that."