Tree Champion appointed following Confor suggestion

13 June 2018

Confor has welcomed the appointment of Sir William Worsley as the UK Government’s first Tree Champion to expand forest and woodland cover.

Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, made the announcement today following Confor’s suggestion that a new figurehead was needed to drive up planting rates and meet Government targets. 

Sir William, current Chair of the National Forest Company, has been tasked with ”setting a bold direction for the country’s forests and woodlands over the next 25 years” and supporting Government manifesto commitments to plant 11 million trees, plus a further one million in towns and cities. 

The appointment follows through on a commitment made in the Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP), published in early 2018. 

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, said: “Confor proposed the idea of a Tree Champion when we met Michael Gove last autumn and I’m delighted that this has been followed through. I welcome Sir William’s appointment. Having worked with him on the Independent Panel on Forestry, I know him well and value his knowledge and experience, as well as his real passion and commitment for our forests and woodlands.  

“He is an excellent appointment by the Secretary of State and Confor is committed to working constructively with Sir William, Defra ministers and officials and all other stakeholders to get more trees in the ground.” 

Mr Goodall continued: “This appointment is much-needed to galvanise efforts to drive up tree planting rates in England, with the 11 million trees by 2022 target still well off course. We have started to see larger-scale schemes coming through, at Lowther and Doddington, but much more needs to be done.” 

The planting target in the 25YEP [increasing forest cover in England from 10 to 12 per cent by 2060] means 7,500 hectares of new forests need to be planted each year until 2060. However, the latest Forestry Commission statistics show that only 7,500 hectares have been planted in the last FIVE years, so a step change is needed to meet long-term targets. 

Mr Goodall said Sir William’s appointment came at a crucial time, with major post-Brexit issues including plant health and the new support regime for the UK countryside to replace the Common Agricultural Policy. Sir William’s remit includes supporting the development of a future forestry grant scheme outside the EU – “one that encourages large-scale tree planting, reduces carbon and rewards landowners for enhancing the environment”. 

Mr Goodall added: “The UK is the second largest importer of wood products in the world, after China, so the new trade deals to be negotiated as we leave the EU are vital to the future.”

He said the Government also needed to publish details of its proposal for Forestry Investment Zones (FIZs), designed to kick-start commercial planting: “Wood processors are pressing for the first FIZ area to be in the north of England and to be supported by the Borderlands Growth Deal. This is one area where Sir William can make an immediate impact so there is new commercial planting alongside proposals for the Northern Forest.

“Confor has written to Sir William to welcome him to his post and looks forward to an early meeting to discuss all these key issues and identify how to drive up planting rates quickly.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “We have a responsibility to make sure the next generation inherit the woodlands, forests and trees they deserve. We are beginning to see good progress in growing tree cover, but we need to go further – and faster.”