Report on Westminster Hall forestry debate

12 January 2018

The need for increased productive planting and the use of more home-grown timber in construction were two key themes in a Westminster Hall debate on forestry in England. 

The debate was arranged to address the Government’s response to the forestry inquiry by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee, and featured contributions from 9 MPs and a reply by the minister responsible for forestry, Dr Thérèse Coffey.

During her speech, Dr Coffey confirmed the Government had “reset the clock” on its 2015-2020 target of planting 11 million trees and that the target would now run from the June 2017 election to 2022. She said she was confident that this target would be met and passed.

Dr Coffey said she was delighted that Doddington North Moor in Northumberland, the largest productive planting scheme for a generation, had finally been approved and would see trees going into the ground from the end of March.

She described her visit to another large new scheme, on the Lowther Estate scheme near Penrith, Cumbria, having tweeted a picture of herself planting a tree. She said in the debate: “I had the pleasure of visiting Lowther and planting the first of 213,000 trees, a rich mix of broadleaf corridors and softwood plantations. It is truly impressive.”

Chris Davies MP, Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry (APPGF), said it was crucial to maintain momentum on productive tree planting, stressing the 80,000 jobs supported by the forestry and timber industry, which adds £2 billion in annual economic value to the economy.

Mr Davies highlighted the fact that the UK had ‘overtaken’ Japan to be the second-largest net importer of wood products in the world after China and said: “This demonstrates why it is so important that this parliament sends a strong signal to the UK Government that we must plant more trees now to ensure a sustainable supply of domestic timber in future.”

EFRA committee chairman Neil Parish MP opened the debate by noting that forests and woodland provided “multiple environmental, social and economic benefits”. He also renewed calls for a “one-stop shop” for forestry grants and advice, with several other speakers repeating this message - a key ask of Confor and a recommendation in the initial EFRA committee report.

Angela Smith MP said the existing grants system was “tortuous” and that “a more seamless and accessible approach” was needed. Both Mrs Smith and her Labour colleague David Drew MP called for more information on how the longer-term target of increasing woodland cover in England to 12 per cent by 2060 (from around 10 per cent now) would be met. Mr Drew said: "We need more detail on how this will be achieved" and said general forestry policy had "a lot on aspiration but not so much on detail".

Confor Chief Executive Stuart Goodall, who attended the debate, said: "It's vital that the profile of forestry and timber is kept high at Westminster and that the Government is repeatedly pressed to act on the big issues, including planting, managing woodland and using more home-grown wood.

"The debate took place just hours after the launch of the 25-Year Environment Plan by Theresa May, which demonstrated that the benefits delivered by forestry and timber have made it to the heart of UK Government thinking on the environment. That has happened, in large part, because of our work with MPs in the all-party group.

"In the Westminster Hall debate, it was heartening to see every speaker mention the need for more productive planting or the use of home-grown wood. After many years when trees were seen simply as an environmental issue, MPs spoke knowledgeably about the role of forestry in the economy as well."

Mr Goodall concluded: “There is still much work to be done, but the ‘green shoots’ are evident and Confor's central policy requests - more productive planting, a simpler application system, more actively managed woods and the use of more home-grown timber - are now supported by MPs from all parties.

"Forestry is also starting to be mentioned regularly in terms of the post-Brexit rural landscape. It is a productive activity which can deliver the environmental benefits Michael Gove is talking about under a new future funding system and offers farmers an opportunity to diversify their business."

During the debate, Chris Davies praised Confor for its work with farmers, landowners and environmental and woodland charities to look at how a common countryside policy might work after Brexit.

David Drew praised Mr Davies and Confor for doing “a marvellous job in ensuring the APPGF functioned “efficiently and effectively” in keeping MPs and members of the House of Lords well-informed on important forestry and timber issues.

Confor's briefing, shared with MPs ahead of the debate, can be read here 

Read the report by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee in March 2017.