Webinar call for consistent response on Tree Strategy

18 August 2020

The forestry and wood-using industry has been urged to send a "consistent and concise" response to the England Tree Strategy consultation - stressing why the economics of growing timber add up and highlighting the environmental and social benefits which can follow.

A Confor members' webinar - to discuss the first Tree Strategy since 2007 - ended on an optimistic note, with speakers highlighting that forestry and wood now has a much higher political profile. 

Caroline Ayre, Confor's National Manager for England, said: "This is so timely and it's on us all to get it right. With ELMs (the new Environmental Land Management scheme), forestry really has a seat at the table and is having its say." She thought the Tree Strategy was a "sensible" consultation and urged members to make their own comments, as well as supporting Confor's response by filling in its survey. 

Respond to the consultation here (by September 11th) and fill in Confor's online survey here (by Monday August 24th).  

Justin Mumford, Managing Director of Lockhart Garratt and Confor Chair for the East of England, said: "Momentum [for the forestry industry] is growing, driven by market forces. Better financing for woodland creation will deliver that growth, both the Government's own funding and corporate finance.  

"We need to sit around the kitchen table with farmers and landowners, discuss the figures, and make woodland creation happen." 

Olly Combe, of Stephenson Rural and Confor Chair for the North of England, said: "We have a great story to tell and a fantastic product. This is an industry for our times.  

"The big advantage this time around is that we are much more organised in our messaging; and our message to the consultation needs to be consistent and concise. The economic and productivity arguments need to go up the agenda." Later, he added: "We know that growing timber has proved enormously resilient. It's about the right tree in the right place using the right species for future markets - preparing for the future." [in terms of climate change]. 

Mr Combe said there had to be policy alignment between the Tree Strategy and ELMs and urged Lord Goldsmith, the UK Forestry Minister, to ensure that his call for a "colossal endeavour"  to meet tree planting targets (made at a previous Confor webinar) included a commitment by all Government departments to work with the industry. 

He also suggested that the UK Government had to "cascade down" planting targets (30,000 hectares across the UK by 2025) to ensure different regions had "deliverable" targets and a clear idea what was expected of them: "What applications are going in, what's being approved and what is being planted?" 

Mr Combe added: "If we can get local authorities and statutory bodies engaged with local delivery plans, we can see where problems are."  

Mr Mumford agreed with regional targets, saying: "There's no point putting in really high targets for eastern England when that's got a majority of very good agricultural land; that's the bread basket."  

Jo O'Hara, former head of the Forestry Commission in Scotland, said she thought regional targets would also help meet the UK's climate change ambitions.   

Key points raised by speakers and delegates were how to get more joined-up thinking about forestry and wood across UK Government departments - and why bodies including National Parks had to contribute and not resist planting more trees.  

Mr Combe said: "Protected landscapes [like National Parks] have to be part of this and identify places where woodland creation can happen. They have been designed to preserve the landscape and effectively fossilise it. We need to use land management to prepare for climate change and [National Parks] need to accept things are changing." 

Caroline Ayre said some National Parks, like Exmoor, were well-engaged but that others had "misconceptions" about forestry, although this tended to be at an individual rather than organisational level. 

Mr Combe said the forestry and wood industry had to "work hard to promote its benefits" against a "kick back from the environmental lobby." 

As well as the climate change benefits, he said there were clear net biodiversity gains from  tree planting - and the industry had to push for more "landscape-scale environmental thinking".

Mr Mumford said the Strategy had to have longevity and recognise the long-term nature of forestry. This included supporting the early years of planting when cashflow was a major issue, as well as squirrel control - and learning lessons. "We have seen tree cover in the National Forest go up from 5 to 18% and we need to learn from that but also learn where things haven't gone right."