Trees Action Plan must set milestones to increase planting and wood supply

18 May 2021

Confor welcomed the strong focus on green jobs, more wood in construction and skills in the Action Plan - published today - and pledged to work with the UK Government to ensure that key actions in the plan are delivered.

Looking forward, Confor believes the UK Government should set milestones for tree planting to ensure its England Trees Action Plan stays on track to meet increased planting targets.

Confor CEO Stuart Goodall said: "Confor welcomes the Action Plan, setting out how the UK Government proposes to deliver the promise made at the 2019 general election to plant 30,000 hectares of new woodland every year by 2025 in the UK. However, there is a question mark over why the 7,000 hectare annual target for England - outlined by Environment Secretary George Eustice just a few days ago - is not written into the plan. 

“We need a clear statement of intent that England wants to hit that target. We've seen targets missed by governments in the past and need clear milestones to the end of 2024 to ensure this plan stays on track.” 

Mr Goodall added:  "We welcome the focus on green jobs, levelling up through a thriving forest economy, skills and greater use of wood in the plan. The plan recognises that forestry is an economically important sector, particularly in often neglected parts of England and we have set out previously how thousands of new green jobs can be created through forestry and wood processing. The forestry and wood processing industry employs more than 50,000 people and can play a big part in delivering a green recovery from the pandemic. 

“I spoke with the forestry Minister Lord Goldsmith and confirmed that Confor and its members will work constructively with the UK Government to deliver its promises in the plan - specifically on planting, jobs, economic growth, encouraging demand for UK-grown timber, skills and innovation.” 

Confor is holding a meeting for members, with Forestry Minister Lord Goldsmith and senior officials at Defra, to discuss the Action Plan. You can sign up here.

The England Trees Action Plan says: “We will encourage demand for UK-grown timber which can reduce our carbon footprint from imports and reduce emissions by replacing carbon-intensive materials and encourage innovative green finance for trees and woodlands. In addition, we will work with the sector to develop the skills and resources to deliver our ambitions. We will see that trees and woodlands contribute to the bottom line of more businesses in England.” 

In his foreword to the Action Plan, Mr Eustice says: “Trees and woodlands also play an increasingly important role in building thriving rural economies, helping to level up the whole of the UK, and supporting a green recovery by stimulating markets for timber and wood products as renewable resources.” 

Mr Goodall said:“This is very welcome but the plan must also deliver sufficient productive planting to supply the wood products we all need, both softwood and hardwood. 

“The UK is the world's second largest net importer of wood, against a backdrop of rapidly expanding global demand and limited new supply - so we must grow more wood in the UK for future use, especially to build the hundreds of thousands new homes the country needs. That means we need to include productive species as part of mixed, modern, multi-purpose forests, and bring more woodland into active management.” 

Mr Goodall challenged the premise that only native broadleaf woodlands provide benefits for nature and people. 

“Productive mixed forests offer enormous carbon benefits and significant biodiversity benefits too [read Confor’s 2020 report Biodiversity, Forestry and Wood here] - as well as providing the jobs our rural areas need - to help in the levelling up agenda. 

“The forestry sector is perhaps uniquely placed to help deliver a green recovery from the pandemic, creating thousands of new green jobs, while also contributing to net zero and creating more places for wildlife. Confor will continue to push for a joined-up approach that recognises we can deliver all of these benefits at the same time.” 

The Action Plan says there will be “less of a distinction between ‘commercial’ woodland and ‘amenity’ woodlands in the future than there is today”. 

Mr Goodall welcomed this recognition of how modern productive forestry has moved on from the planting of the 20th Century - but laid down a challenge. 

“I urge everyone involved in growing and managing trees to rise to this challenge, and make these words meaningful,” he said. “Confor recognises that all types of trees must be part of the solution to tackling the green recovery and the climate and nature crises. We urge others to step away from silo thinking, understand the huge steps the sector has made in recent decades to embrace biodiversity and help us to grow more of the wood products we use – we cannot offshore our responsibilities in the 21st Century. That’s not good for a low-carbon industry - or for the planet.”