Support growing for Forestry Investment Zones in Northern England

20 December 2018

The leader of Northumberland County Council has backed calls for a Forestry Investment Zone (FIZ) in the county - while The Woodland Trust supports the idea of a FIZ as part of the Northern Forest.

Confor supports the creation of FIZs, first mentioned in the UK Government's Clean Growth Strategy in late 2017, to enhance future timber supply - and has stressed that there must be a focus on productive planting. [Read  Confor's paper on FIZs here]

Peter Jackson, Conservative Leader of Northumberland County Council, told Confor's Superwood conference that more productive planting could be "transformational" in the North East. As the UK was the world's second largest net importer of timber after China, there was a "ready-made internal market for wood".

Councillor Jackson continued: "Northumberland is a place of big spaces. It has plenty of room for more productive tree planting whilst still respecting the inherent natural, landscape and recreational value of our countryside. 

"We need to plant more trees at scale [in the North East] to guarantee wood supply - and recognise that doing this also provides recreational and tourism potential, captures carbon and mitigates against floods." 

Simon Hart, of EGGER, which employs 650 people at its chipboard factory in Hexham, Northumberland, said the firm had invested £250 million in the last decade in the site, which produced 500,000 cubic metres of chipboard every year. The site needed a sustainable supply of timber, but this was a challenge - for EGGER and all timber users - as a result of the drop-off in productive planting since the 1980s.

"We have to import timber from the south of Scotland," said Mr Hart, "so all those jobs are elsewhere and not in the North-East economy."

Mr Hart continued: "Global demand for timber is rising dramatically, everybody thinks planting trees is a good idea and the Forestry Commission has a grant scheme - so everything must be rosy? No - we are only planting 1000 to 2000 hecatres in England each year. [Scotland will plant around 10,000 hectares this year]. It is very difficult to get approval."

Councillor Jackson said the large Doddington North Moor planting scheme in north Northumberland, approved in November 2017, had been "too difficult to deliver" - and this had to change. "The Government is starting to recognise it has to help by addressing some of the barriers that are currently putting a brake on productive woodland creation in England," he added.   

Concillor Jackson said the county council was ready to work with Forestry Commission and Confor to "engage local communities and other local stakeholders in prospective planting schemes and support the design and management of those initiatives to ensure that legitimate concerns and issues are addressed." 

He added: "I will watch with interest the impact of the newly created Forestry Investment Zone in east Cumbria - and will look to seek its replication in Northumberland once the appropriate planting incentives and mapping approaches have been worked through," said Councillor Jackson. "Northumberland is ready to embrace this forest friendly approach - and is keen to work with the Government and the forestry sector to develop new ways of working that ensure, in a post-Brexit context, we get this right." 

Simon Hart said one of the challenges in Northumberland was the heavy designation of land in the county, which meant it was difficult to plant in many areas. He accepted that there were sensitive areas where productive forestry should not be planted, but said we had to look very carefully at designations to make sure they were robust - and move away from a presumption not to plant trees in large areas of the North East.

He felt the pilot project FIZ in east Cumbria was an "area of least resistance" and suggested it would be good to use Northumberland as a test case for a FIZ in an area where there would have to be trade-offs between different land uses. 

Beccy Speight, Chief Executive of the Woodland Trust, said productive planting had to be part of the answer if the Northern Forest was to plant 50 million new trees over 25 years. She said although organisations like Confor and The Woodland Trust had different primary objectives, they could continue to work together collaboratively to mutual benefit - and this could include productive sites, potentially including a FIZ, to deliver the Northern Forest's targets. 

The Northern Forest will cover a thick ribbon of land running from the east to west coast of England and taking in large parts of Yorkshire and Lancashire, as well as parts of Cheshire.

Read more on the Superwood conference here