This year’s Confor Woodland Show seminar programme was centred around the overall show theme of ‘Forests, Wood and Climate Change’. Presenting across the two-day event were Confor, the Forestry Commission and the Forest Climate Change Working Group, to name but a few, on a number of industry issues ranging from funding the industry’s future to living with the impact of ash dieback and adapting England’s woodlands in the climate emergency.

Trees must play a key role in tackling climate change – that was the key message from day one’s main seminar, ‘Woodland expansion, a solution for the climate emergency’.

“We need the government to step up. We doubled forest cover in the last century and it’s time to rediscover that vision and do that again to tackle the ecological and climate emergency,” said Guy Shrubsole, of environmental organisation Friends of the Earth.

“We need more woods everywhere – on farms, hedges, in the urban fringe and more – better woodlands for a wide range of purposes.”

On the subject of increasing forest cover as part of the UK’s path to net-zero emissions by 2050, Confor’s Dr Eleanor Harris said: “These new woodlands will be delivering low-carbon construction material by 2050. When we create new woodlands, we aren’t just planting trees, what we are really planting is optimism, hope and excitement.”

Forestry Journal: Stuart Goodall, Confor chief executive, lays out plans for an industry fund.Stuart Goodall, Confor chief executive, lays out plans for an industry fund.

The final seminar of day one was led by Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall, who laid out the organisation’s plans for a prospective fund for industry-relevant research, real-time statistical and market information, skills development and recruitment and the promotion of the forestry industry.

There are both big challenges and opportunities facing the sector under all four of these headings, Goodall told the audience, and a fund would allow those challenges to be tackled and those opportunities to be seized.

He explained: “Essentially, industry has got to create the funding to be able to make this happen itself. Now, in most other countries what they have are statutory levies where, basically, government passes legislation and requires that funding is collected and then that’s made available.

“Having spoken with politicians both north and south of the border, I have had very clear feedback that there is no appetite there to introduce a statutory levy mechanism, so if we don’t come up with a mechanism that works then we’ll not get funding in place to explore these opportunities.”

The first step is asking what a fund would look like, and Confor has enlisted chartered forester and environmental development advisor, Martin Glynn, to assist in developing that mechanism.

Stuart went on: “The key points are: If we set up a business to collect, manage and distribute funding, we reckon that if it raised somewhere between 10p and 20p per tonne on harvested timber, it could raise £700,000 to £1.4 million per annum.”

The decision was made to focus on harvested timber because it is relatively straightforward, Stuart said. By collecting the levy at the point at which timber enters a mill, it creates a relatively small number of businesses needed to collect the levy, while also meaning that money is collected from both the public and private sectors.

A fund would also allow for further leverage funding from government. Would it be pound for pound? That’s uncertain, but Goodall is confident it could greatly increase the pot.

“It’s clear that, across the board, there are opportunities to attract funding if you can put money on the table, so it’s not just the funding we come up with, and conservatively speaking, if we raised somewhere between £700,000 and £1.4 million a year from all this range of activities, I am confident that we could raise £1–2 million in terms of additional leveraged funding.”

Stuart stressed that for this fund to work, the whole sector needs to buy into it – and developing the mechanism is only the first step. The next step is to develop a prospectus which would set out in detail what the fund would look like, how it would be collected, how it would be administered and what it would support.

Confor wants to know what the industry thinks, what its concerns are and what must be addressed before it is willing to support a fund.

Forestry Journal: Dominic Driver of National Resources Wales leads the seminar on adapting England’s woodland in the climate emergency.Dominic Driver of National Resources Wales leads the seminar on adapting England’s woodland in the climate emergency.

The ‘Adapting England’s woodlands in the climate emergency’ seminar on day two was delivered by the Forestry Climate Change Working Group. Leading the discussion was Dominic Driver, head of land stewardship at National Resources Wales, who in his introduction emphasised hope through action. “We’re taking action and we’re full of hope,” he told the packed tent, before passing over to Mark Broadmeadow, principle advisor – climate change, the Forestry Commission.

“There is a lot of debate in the sector as to what to do, and not a lot of progress,” he said. “We had the Committee on Climate Change’s Net Zero Report published during the summer and government has subsequently put it into legislation. This is to try to keep warming to one-and-a-half degrees. It is a huge challenge and I would see planting 10,000 hectares a year of new forestry in England as probably the easiest of those tasks. There is a huge task for the forestry sector as well to contribute to domestic biomass production which goes above and beyond that 10,000 hectares a year.

“It’s great the government is committed to that, but it is a huge challenge to get there, and for net zero that means every country in the world has to do the same thing. So, as was stated at the launch of the projections in 2018, we can’t just plan for one-and-a-half degrees – we’ve got to be planning for the more extreme climate scenarios.”

The presentation coincided with the launch of the Working Group’s first Action Plan Progress Report, which states there is now an added urgency to adapting woodlands to climate change. Simon Lloyd, chief executive of the Royal Forestry Society and chair of the Forestry Climate Change Action Group, delivered a rousing speech, in which he criticised the lack of action taken on the issue up to now.

“You can see in that report, first of all, the evidence says that we’re facing a much more urgent situation and we need to take action much more quickly, but that we’re not getting very good traction on the challenge in a practical sense,” he told the audience.

“I believe climate change is currently a sideshow in policy terms. We’ve been tinkering and tweaking existing regulations and incentives a little bit, here and there, but basically everything has remained the same. Nothing has changed. There has been a lot of talk, a lot of good intentions, quite a lot of grandstanding but not a lot of action. We all know that if you want to affect change, especially rapid change, you have to have a single-minded focus on the objective.

“You can’t face in four directions at once and expect things to change, and if we really believe that we are facing a climate crisis, then climate change can’t be just another thing that we do. It has to be front and centre of forestry policy.”

Recalling a recent letter from an RFS member who wanted to restock his woodland with plane trees and walnut, only to have his felling licence declined and be told he can only plant native woodland trees, Simon added: “I’m afraid if we are serious about climate change, this nonsense has to stop. We need to have all our climate policies lined up behind a single objective of climate-change adaptation and climate-change mitigation if we’re going to do anything of any value about this, rather than just talk about it.”

The ‘Living with ash dieback – how do we manage and adapt’ panel session that afternoon demonstrated the scale of the problem, with members of the audience reporting cases from as far north as Huntley in Aberdeenshire and as far south as Cornwall. The discussion was led by Rob Coventry who works with the Forestry Commission on ash dieback in the south-east of England. The panel consisted of Simon Lloyd, RFS; Alice Broome, Forest Research; Andy Pointer, Lockhart Garrett; Elspeth Steel, DEFRA; Ewan Calcott, the Forestry Commission; and Tim Decker of Coombes Forestry.

A Q&A session followed, with one audience member raising the idea of imposing a buffer zone to stop the spread of microscopic fungal spores. Alice Broome responded: “It might be very difficult to impose a buffer zone because of spores being spread not just by the wind but by other people moving material around. I think it would be quite hard to get a buffer zone that would be completely impenetrable.”

Elspeth Steel said: “The spores can travel extremely long distances. Doing the buffer zone is really effective when you’ve got a disease that doesn’t travel, but in this instance, it does travel very far so I’m not sure how effective that would be.”

Rob Coventry added: “Some of the modelling that was done after ash dieback first arrived in the country suggested that in a several-year window there was likely to be a hundred days when spore masses crossed the channel from mainland Europe and that’s why we see the most advanced infection on the south coast, so I think, unfortunately, a buffer zone is not possible in this particular instance.”

Another question centres on economics – can you generate any cash value from infected ash?

Simon Lloyd said that the RFS had been able to generate positive cash flow from harvesting the ash in mixtures, as long as it had been part of a wider woodland thinning programme that has enabled it to justify bringing in the harvesting machinery and collecting enough wood to make it worthwhile. He added, “Costs start to kick in when you then have to restock what you have taken out and that can eat up a lot if not all of your cash flow generated from the thinning.”

Simon went on to suggest that a restoration grant could help but would tie your hands with regard to the species you can restock with.