Mr Goodall responded by saying: “For too long the important economic reasons to plant trees and manage woodland - and the contribution to sustaining those benefits with income from the sales of wood - has been ignored in the delivery of public policy in England. Furthermore, supplies of timber are coming under fierce pressure as global demand rises and the UK needs to take more responsibility for producing its own in order to support rural businesses and deliver net zero.
“This would also deliver enormous environmental benefits, as the Climate Change Committee has clearly identified that greatre tree planting and wood use is vital to the UK meeting its net-zero ambitions.”
Mr Goodall said the forestry and wood industry needed confidence that the UK Government understood that planting more wood-producing forests had to play a large part in future planting policy, to secure a range of economic and environmental benefits.
He explained: “That confidence starts with the targets themselves - 30,000 hectares of new woodland in the UK overall and about 7,500 hectares of that in England by 2024.
At the moment, we are not even planting half of that 30,000 figure - and 80% of that is happening in Scotland.
“The Westminster Government must set a specific target for England and not hide behind a UK target that shares responsibility with the three devolved administrations, which were not consulted on the UK target in the first place.”
Mr Goodall said the forestry and wood industry also needed confidence to gear up to meet the targets: “We need confidence to increase nursery production, to recruit more foresters and tree planters, and to invest more time and money into preparing planting applications. Our members cannot currently be sure that grants will be available in future years and that the process of approving applications to plant will actually work. They need that confidence.”
Caroline Ayre, Confor’s National Manager for England, welcomed the report’s call for clarity on future support for woodland creation. It recommends that Defra and the Forestry Commission prioritise the publication of a clear and detailed timeline for the introduction of the Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes, including how the England Woodland Creation Offer and ELM schemes will fit together (by May 2022).
“Confor has worked hard to ensure forestry and woodland creation is at the heart of the new ELM schemes and it’s very pleasing to see the committee recognise this. We need this clarity, and we need it quickly, so farmers and landowners who want to include tree planting in their future business plans, have the certainty to begin the long process of planning for new woodland creation.”
She also welcomed the fact that the committee had set a timetable of December 2022 for Defra’s consultation on the criteria and process for its review of planting approvals regulations.
“Our members are concerned about moving regulatory goalposts - which we explained to Defra officials on a recent visit to North-west England. Again it’s about confidence that the approvals process is fair and balanced and supports all planting types.”
Confor has also welcomed recommendations to extend the woodland maintenance payment, and to produce more comprehensive guidance for local authorities to help them manage and make decisions about competing priorities for land use when creating their Local Nature Recovery Strategies.
“The benefits of modern productive forestry and the significance of the forestry and wood processing sector to many parts of rural England are often poorly understood and the danger is that these are not incorporated appropriately in the development of these strategies,” said Mr Goodall.
He concluded: “There is a lot in this report for Confor to work with - and we will continue to engage directly with officials and ministers to press the UK Government to implement its recommendations. However, time is passing quickly and we need more urgency and more action on the ground.”