CONFOR’S #TheFutureisForestry Essay and Video Prize competition 2019 was recently launched at the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry (APPGF) Summer Reception. Held on 11 June, in the Churchill Room at the Palace of Westminster, MPs and a member of the House of Lords (John Grogan MP (Lab), David Simpson MP (DUP), Jim Shannon MP (DUP), Hywel Williams MP (Plaid Cymru), Albert Owen MP (Lab), David Drew MP (Lab), Tim Farron MP (Lib Dem), Colin Clark MP (Con), Douglas Ross MP (Con), Stephen Kerr MP (Con) and Lord Inglewood) mingled with representatives of the Woodland Trust, Scottish Woodlands, Friends of the Earth and the Institute of Chartered Foresters.

Students from the Scottish School of Forestry (part of the University of the Highlands and Islands), the National School of Forestry (University of Cumbria), Bangor University, and Harper Adams University, were also in attendance. They and the young professionals in the room were all eligible to enter this year’s prize: ‘How can famers and landowners be motivated to plant more trees to deliver a wide range of benefits, especially mitigating climate change?’.

Following drinks, canapés and photo opportunities with MPs, chair of the APPGF Chris Davies MP (Con) welcomed all to the Reception. “In Westminster, MP colleagues and I attend various events, and seldom do we see such a turnout of the young. Thank you, students, for coming. I am glad to see Tree Champion Sir William Worsley and chair of the Forestry Commission Sir Harry Studholme here, as well as other distinguished members of the forestry industry including our sponsors BSW, Tilhill Forestry and the Forestry Commission. Tonight is about the future of forestry, and forestry has a great future.”

Thanking Chris Davies for his time and support as APPGF Chair, Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, updated the room with news from around the UK. “Since meeting last in January, the UK Committee on Climate Change has produced its report, which strengthens the case for increased tree planting. Confor’s new ask sets out ambitious but achievable planting targets at a UK level of 40,000 ha per year by 2030 (including 18,000 ha a year in Scotland).”

A climate change conference, focusing on trees and timber and the contribution they can make to climate change, is being considered for next year.

“In July, forestry minister David Rutley will visit Northumberland, an area of England that offers an opportunity for significant additional tree planting. Last year, Confor, the Woodland Trust, Friends of the Earth and local politicians wrote to the minister asking to develop a forestry investment zone [in Northumberland] and we were pleased to have received a positive response. When the minister visits, we hope to give him an update.”

Scotland has launched a new Scottish Forestry Strategy. “Cross-party support recognises that forestry is a serious industry north of the border. The ambition to extend the [forested] area, bringing more timber to market, will allow the industry to expand and develop.” The final figure, announced later in the week, was 11,200 ha of new planting.

During the last few years, Confor’s message has consistently focused on climate change and the real contribution that forestry and timber can make. “Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and Sir David Attenborough’s video (made with the WWF and Netflix) have highlighted climate change. The video, which also highlighted the role of wood products, focuses on three points: the role of protected forests that we do not wish to touch (we have vital ancient woodland that we want to protect); those forests that have been managed for generations by local people on a less intensive basis (letting light onto the forest floor actually helps biodiversity); the opportunities to establish new-generation plantations and to ‘farm’ trees (because we do need to plant more trees). As the second-biggest net importer of timber in the world, we export our net environmental impact to other countries and then expect them to manage their forests sustainably.

“When we talk about climate change, forestry reducing our emissions and timber locking up carbon, we have always been able to say this as a country with the highest sustainable management standards in the world.

“To plant more trees, we will have to develop the message in terms of impacts on biodiversity. Concerned individuals will want to know if planting trees and harvesting timber for products will cause a trade-off to the future detriment of the environment and biodiversity. Evidence says that this is not the case, but it is a message we need to put together to secure the future.

“This year’s #TheFutureisForestry Essay and Video competition offers three cash prizes for both the essay and the video category. To everyone in the room considering participating, good luck. I hope to see some of you back here in November. I will now hand over to the minister. We are pleased he is here, given that the Conservative Party is rather busy.”

Minister for Forestry, David Rutley MP (Con), thanked Chris Davies for raising the profile of forestry in Parliament. “It is good to see so many young people here. We mentioned Greta Thunberg. I met two memorable young people recently. When planting the first tree in the Northern Forest (with Tree Champion Sir William Worsley), we met one boy who spent every lunchtime at primary school protecting everything to do with nature. Introducing him to the Tree Champion, I said, ‘One day you could do that job’. He said, ‘That would be okay, but give Sir William my phone number, he can call me anytime’. In an urban forest in north-west Leicestershire, youngsters took us into their forest school – their space; they owned it. 

“One young lad took me to his raised bed of vegetables and talked me through what he did with his spare time in this outdoor space, a space that all in this room consider precious. Those young people do think about that [nature and forests]. These experiences will shape their lives, as your experiences have shaped those things that you want to do.

“Forestry has a bright future. We heard from Stuart about the future and we will see – at some point – government’s response to the UK Committee on Climate Change’s Report on ‘net zero’ [greenhouse gas emissions by 2050].  

“We have ambitious targets: planting 11 million trees and a further one million urban trees by the end of this parliament, and to increase canopy cover from 10 per cent to 12 per cent by 2060. My guess would be, as the UK CCC report says, that we need more trees.

“It is a good time to be launching this competition. Climate change and public interest demands it. It is the perfect moment. Our 25-year plan sets out ambitious targets, but we need to get the plans in place to make it happen. This industry is significant, and people must appreciate that 80,000 people are employed in (or affected by) it. It is a £2 billion trade sector. We want to change the import statistics and to be more responsible, creating more sustainable forests and woodlands that we can use.

“I am glad that we have plans and targets in place. Not only do we want to transform forestry, we want to fundamentally change our approach to managing land through a [new] Environmental Land Management Scheme. I look forward to visiting Northumberland and other parts of the country as well. We have huge aspirations and I am looking forward to the next crop of essays.”

Last year’s competition winner, Lorna Johnson (Harper Adams), thanked Confor and the sponsors for inviting her to the event. She said, “Good luck to all those entrants this year,” and read her concise and well-researched 2018 essay, answering ‘How can forestry and wood processing help deliver a green Brexit and a more sustainable society in the UK?’.

Chair of the Forestry Commission, Sir Harry Studholme, was inspired by this event because it is about young people. “100 years ago in 1919, parliament created a new world of forestry. At that point, forest cover was low and many people had been in the war fighting for freedom. Those people that returned, creating the Forestry Commission and planting the early forests, were young. It was a time of excitement, invention, innovation and energy; a feeling of making a different world and changing things. There is an echo of that today.

“To take things forward, it is the young who have the energy, the new ideas and – dare I say it – the ability to communicate. This new generation will communicate better than my generation to those beyond forestry about the importance of trees and the many benefits that they deliver.

“I was struck by a tweet from the NFU, saying that 69 per cent of England is grassland. If we are going to be planting trees and increasing the area, as and when subsidies change and other things including timber prices (which are strong), there is land to plant. There are also attitudes – created 40 years ago by young, enthusiastic and dynamic people who could communicate – that are now out of date and need to change. Now is an exciting moment to come into forestry as things change, not just here, but globally. A toast: to the future of forestry and to the young people that will take us there.”

On behalf of #TheFutureisForestry Essay and Video Prize 2019, sponsors BSW, Tilhill Forestry and the Forestry Commission, Peter Whitfield of Tilhill Forestry thanked Chris Davies for chairing the event. He summed up: “To pick a phrase from each speech, Stuart’s ‘securing the future’ backs up the idea of young people writing what is important for us going ahead. The minister made reference to ‘the perfect moment’. There could not be a truer phrase applied to what we need to be doing. The quality of Lorna’s essay set a high standard for this year. Finally, Sir Harry referred to the importance of communication, exactly what this competition is about: communicating the direction of travel we want to go in.  The prize will be judged and we will hold an event here again in November. Thank you all for coming.”

It has since been confirmed Tree Champion Sir William Worsley will hold the post for another year.

For further information on the competition #TheFutureisForestry Essay and Video Prize 2019, with cash prizes of £500, £250 and £100 for the top three essays and top three videos, all details and rules can be found on the Confor website here: