In November's Forester's Diary, our writer was critical of Confor and its efforts to improve forestry's image. Here Stuart Goodall, the industry body's chief executive, responds. 

I was sorry to hear of Tanarus’s soggy experience at the Confor Woodland Show (CWS). It certainly wasn’t the weather for cricket.

Alongside weather and wars, I missed the show due to the other feature of modern-day life – COVID. Thankfully, the Confor team and members bravely battled to get everything in place in time. But for what purpose, Tanarus asked in his column. 

The CWS has traditionally been the show put on by local Confor members every other year from the APF and my team has supported them in this endeavour. It’s always been much smaller than its bigger APF brother and attracts a more regionally based audience – but enjoyed for what it is, a local affair.

Unfortunately, the weather gods were unkind this year, and I also wonder whether participant numbers were down as the CWS was sandwiched between the more recently established annual Forestry Conference and the new Agroforestry Show – three events in short succession, for a small industry.

Forestry Journal: Stuiart Goodall responded to our writer's criticism Stuiart Goodall responded to our writer's criticism

Tanarus also commented on the lack of mention of forestry at the main party conferences. Confor had a stand at the Labour Party conference, which afforded us the opportunity to speak to a wide range of politicians, including shadow ministers and party members from across the country.

My experience there was similar to my experience over 36 years in the sector – politicians and your average person in the street know little about forestry and what they do know is mainly environmental. These days there’s a little less talk about global deforestation, and a bit more about tree planting, but the discussion usually revolves around trees being protected, public enjoyment of woodland and, in general terms, the importance of woodland for wildlife (with comments about native trees being best, not those ‘nasty conifers’).

As usual, when given the chance to talk about the benefits of managing woodland and why we need more timber in the UK (i.e. mainly softwood) we got a good hearing. But given the time that takes, individual conversations always need to be targeted at those who can make a difference.

The practice of forestry is not widely understood and environmental stories about woodlands and forests dominate the public consciousness. This is a consequence of environmental NGOs like the Woodland Trust being able to dominate the media’s attention and forestry being a DEFRA responsibility giving everything the UK government does and says an environmental narrative.

Confor has a team of 12 to try to bring some balance. Frankly, if we were placed inside one of the NGOs or DEFRA/the Forestry Commission we’d be considered a very minor branch indeed. That said, we punch well above our weight and people we influence in government are always staggered to hear how small we are given the impact we have.

Forestry Journal: The 2023 Confor Woodland Show was held in Bath The 2023 Confor Woodland Show was held in Bath (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

Tanarus asks what Confor has done, and what it’s doing. The flippant answer I’d give is if he was a member he’d know a lot more, and Confor would have that bit more resource to be able to represent and support the sector.

But on a more serious note, I’d say that I’m proud of what Confor has achieved, ably supported by many hard-working members, and I know that without us the sector would be in worse shape and facing a bleaker future, and recognition of that is why we have the membership we do.
Stuart Goodall, Confor