The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and Tree Planting (APPG) took place on July 8th. The second session to run online since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown, it was the first since the June launch of the 12-week consultation on the England Tree Strategy. Carolyne Locher reports.

ATTENDEES from across the UK logged in to the session and webinar host, Confor’s David Lee, welcomed all, noting: “We have a varied audience, parliamentarians of all hues from the Commons and Lords, forestry businesses from tree nurseries to sawmills, public forestry bodies and representatives from forestry and environmental groups.”

The event’s discussion focussed on the new England Tree Strategy, the first in 13 years. Key speaker Lord Goldsmith outlined his ambitions for it and took questions afterwards.

Ben Lake MP, chair of the APPG, said: “Our last webinar with Lord Deben covered the need to plant more trees as part of a Green Recovery and the recovery from COVID-19. Last time, we focussed on the challenges; this time, precisely how we are going to do it. The latest tree-planting statistics headline is ‘could do better’, and ‘Scotland is top of the class’. Although the tree strategy is for England, the planting target of 30,000 ha a year by 2025 is across the UK. Devolved administrations will work together to make that happen.”

Lord Zac Goldsmith of Richmond Park, Minister for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, joined the meeting from a study, books on trees and ecocide among the volumes on the shelves behind him. Also Minister for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, which are merging together, he said that being minister for both departments is useful.

“It is great colleagues and champions of forestry and trees in the UK are here,” he began. “We all want the expansion of our trees and woodland cover for many different reasons.

“Tree planting helps us to mitigate climate change – we cannot reach Net Zero without it – and to adapt to a changing climate in the UK and internationally.

“Planting on hillsides and along riverbanks helps to slow the flow of water and to increase the absorbability of the ground. After a year of unprecedented intensity of flooding, this matters a great deal.

“Planting trees protects and enhances biodiversity, the programme discussed today being critically important for the Nature Recovery Networks, which government committed to in our manifesto.

“Planting provides a sustainable income for the rural economy, a sustainable income stream for farmers and land managers through planting, and it protects our natural environment and provides sanctuary for people.

“Carbon is just one of the benefits of planting 30,000 ha a year of trees by 2025. Doing the right thing for climate, we also do the right thing for our natural environment, our security, our economy and people.”

Domestic goals reflect the government’s international goals. Internationally, “the world’s forests hold (around) 80 per cent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity. Their destruction is the second biggest source of CO2 emissions globally. Agriculture is responsible for (around) 80 per cent of that destruction. We can’t hope to stabilise the climate or prevent the consequences of the destruction of the planet unless we emphasize restoring and protecting forests globally.

“Despite the assessment that (around) 30 per cent of the most cost-effective solutions to climate change should be delivered by nature, currently less than three per cent of global climate funding is spent on nature-based solutions. That is madness. The UK has committed to doubling international climate finance to £11.6 billion from the next session and much will be spent on nature-based solutions. This is part of our international message in the run-up to COP [26], which we host next year.”

Domestically, “government has demonstrated commitment by announcing a £640 million Nature for Climate fund, used to increase tree-planting rates, restore peatlands and contribute to nature recovery, delivering the English portion of increased tree planting across the UK to 30,000 ha by 2025. It requires massive collaboration, a shared sense of ownership. Foresters must continue to manage our tree stock now and for a world where the climate is already changing. Communities must work to increase tree planting on private land, landowners and farmers to join us in this colossal endeavour to plant on their land and see woodland creation as a financially viable option alongside traditional farming practices. We need more private investment in woodland-creation schemes to ramp up to the scale we need. Crucially, the public sector must make available land that is not needed for housebuilding or development. Without that, we will struggle.

“To do any of this, seed nurseries must to grow greater quantities of home-grown trees. Where seeds, saplings and trees are imported, extra precautions must be taken to ensure that they are biosecure. As we ramp up planting rates and woodland cover increases, more people must be encouraged into this highly-skilled profession to care for the expanding tree stock.

“Finally, a major challenge, to increase the amount of home-grown timber used in England in construction. We need to grow the market for it. Currently, 23 per cent of homes are built with timber frames compared to 83 per cent in Scotland. We need to change that.

“The UK currently imports over 80 per cent of its timber and wood products. Demand far exceeds domestic supply. We want to see the expansion of the Grown in Britain certification mark throughout the supply chain, reducing carbon’s footprint into the construction industry, and encouraging the market to invest in a well-regulated domestic timber industry as a home for our own forest products.

 “We launched a consultation into the England Tree Strategy with a view to publishing later this year. I encourage everyone to respond. The Strategy is important, setting policy for us all for decades to come. We have to get it right. We will work with the devolved governments on how best to achieve the UK’s manifesto commitment. Whatever we end up agreeing, it is going to need an unprecedented increase in afforestation for England.”

Thanking the APPG, he said: “COVID continues to affect the economy and our lives in so many different ways. I want to thank Confor in particular for their work advising government throughout the early months of the pandemic. It has been massively appreciated.”

Forestry Journal: Stuart Goodall.Stuart Goodall.

Stuart Goodall, chief executive of Confor, thanked Lord Goldsmith, saying: “The Strategy comes at a time of planning our green recovery. We have the opportunity to demonstrate the relevance of trees and wood for industry, jobs, a low-carbon future and nature recovery.

“I was at the launch of the last Strategy (2007), which did not achieve its aspirations or targets for planting and woodland management set out to 2013. One reason is that the delivery mechanisms did not recognise that the industry can help deliver the objectives. Business and industry was mentioned and subsequent grants were targeted, but with no intrinsic link to economic sustainability. If government provides grants and incentives with no consideration for current and future economic reality, they will underperform.

“The current strategy consultation document refers to planting, woodland management and using more home-grown wood. These are interlinked when it comes to strategy delivery. Some in the industry say that the language used does not speak to them. A delivery plan offering the industry opportunities to meld economic, environmental and social outcomes will achieve a great deal more.

“The UK Forest Standard and a robust regulatory system mean the safeguards are there. Industry wants to protect valuable ancient woodland, to expand native woodland and to see more people enjoying woods and forests and more wildlife in them. We also want to see more jobs, more businesses and more carbon locked up in wood products.

“To achieve this we need to recognise that 95 per cent of wood produced in the UK is softwood; that is where we have the woodland resource quality and the manufacturing ability to compete with imports. Of the five per cent of hardwood, most goes to firewood. We can do better with our hardwood resource, but not until we solve the deer and squirrel problem.

“To mitigate our global environmental footprint and meet our carbon targets we must increase the sustainable use of softwoods, and form a partnership of working with hardwood and softwood. We have to tackle those who peddle outdated views and misconceptions. We have to deliver 30,000 ha of new planting across the UK. We, the forestry sector, do not plant on deep peat, in monocultures or square-edged blocks of conifer. We do plant and manage multi-purpose woodlands.”

In the coming weeks, Confor will publish a paper on the biodiversity benefits of managed productive forests. Mr Goodall added: “Basing policy on evidence, we can have it all: a stronger rural economy; less carbon; and more people, fauna and flora in our woods and forests. The Great Northumberland Forest demonstrates that planting of all types can happen when supported by a wide range of partners and communities. It did not seek narrow outcomes that ignored the wider sector, but planned for a truly sustainable future.”

Forestry Journal: Ben Lake MP.Ben Lake MP.

The England Tree Strategy mentions the Great Northumberland Forest a number of times. Northumberland County Council’s Cabinet Member for the Economy, Richard Wearmouth, said: “Our forest partnership encompasses many different interests with differing views on what the forest should include. We have worked hard to bring them together and reflect that as best we can.” He invited Lord Goldsmith and members of the APPG to visit any time.

 David Lee reiterated that devolved nations must work with government on planting targets of 30,000 ha a year across the UK by 2025. “We are at 13,500 ha at the moment. Quite a way to go by 2025.”

Ben Lake concluded: “The minister was very clear about the importance of collaboration between devolved administrations. Thanks to the minister and the contributors this afternoon. It has been an interesting discussion and I look forward to the coming weeks and months and trying to put these things into action.”

David Lee ended: “The consultation runs until 11 September. The APPG will be putting in a response. People on this call will differ on priorities, but there is common ground. And, in these strangest of times, we have the unique opportunity to deliver environmental benefits in terms of climate change and biodiversity, but also economic benefits in terms of the green recovery.”


Q. Luke Hemmings, Forestry Commission: Can we rely on continued support for working woodlands that store carbon and provide renewable resources to make the green recovery a reality? What is government’s role in showcasing the many benefits provided by UKFS mixed forests? Or, is there a place for everything in the mix?

A. Yes, we need a mix in our response. Some areas unsuited to formal planting might be suitable for natural regeneration. Rewilding in some areas is good for biodiversity and water management. This industry generates jobs, economic growth and opportunity. The gap between demand and supply is staggering. We need to stimulate the market. Some countries in Europe have a requirement to use a minimum amount of domestically produced timber.

Around 41 per cent of woodlands are undermanaged. One way to deal with this is ensuring that markets are there, the timber market and the ecosystem services market. The ecosystem services market is young, but will grow as we shift towards environmental land management (ELM) paying land managers on the basis of public money for the delivery of public goods. Incentivising landowners to see woodland as a good commercial decision will close that gap between supply and demand.


Q. Lord Carrington: English woodlands not actively managed will largely be semi-urban or urban woodland together with steep banks of woodland (e.g. Chilterns/Cotswolds), difficult and uneconomic to manage. What can government practically do to bring this type of woodland back into active management?

A. Get the incentives right. For areas that lend themselves to management but where the economics don’t quite add up, expanding domestic timber markets combined with new nature payments (ELM payments made every year to landowners) in addition to pots, such as the Nature for Climate fund, could tip the balance. If the landowner can recognise a financial value to manage these areas in a way that maximises, for example, water retention or biodiversity, the economics will change.


Q. Andy Howard, project manager, Doddington: How long will it take ELMS to bed in and how do we ensure that we are not waiting for a fully formed mechanism to fund new schemes? How can we fund new planting now?

A. Some landowners are looking at suitable areas of land to plant but are holding off. They wonder what the scheme will look like and whether they lose out if they plant now. If people make the decision to plant now, they will not lose out. We are committed to that decision and there is a ‘letter of assurance’ published on the DEFRA website. [It is thought NCF grants will lead naturally into ELMS.]


Q. Baroness Young: The Nature for Climate fund is important to the England Tree Strategy. Would you consider committing to creating a public benefit test before granting money, ensuring only proposals delivering the twin benefits of carbon and biodiversity are funded from the public purse?

A. I cannot make unilateral commitments about a dual-benefits test. Investment made with public money has to deliver as much as possible, more so now as a consequence of coronavirus and because we have to hit Net Zero by 2050. The PM has been explicit; we see climate change and biodiversity/nature loss as two sides of the same coin. You cannot deal with one effectively without the other. We don’t want to end up with perverse policies, outcomes that were not anticipated or wanted, because we did not take a holistic view as was needed.


Q. Greg Vickers, head forester, Grosvenor Estates: How is DEFRA encouraging landowners, particularly farmers, to plant more trees when the current incentives do not recognise the cultural change needed to switch from a farming business to a forestry-based business?

A. We don’t have a single answer. Farmers are some of the most dynamic businesspeople in the country, responding to changing conditions and taking long-term decisions in ways that other businesses don’t. The move from the CAP to ELMS is one of the most profound shifts in subsidies that I can think of. Yet the response from the farming community – despite concerns – has been positive, wanting to get involved and to take maximum advantage of it. The same is true of new planting. We have to create the framework and incentives where it makes sense for them to do that. We have not yet figured out how to price nature or cost what we don’t want (pollution or wasting resources, etc), but we are getting there and the ELM is a part of that. The market in delivering public goods is only going to grow in years to come. I have confidence in farmers and I hope the Tree Strategy will guide us. We need everyone involved, to get the incentives right and to not deliver perverse outcomes.


Q. Jenny Knight, doctoral researcher (BiFOR): How is government ensuring those crucial (but currently potentially considering themselves disinterested) partners are engaged to feed back?

A. We need to get it right, talking with stakeholders right across society; not just the sector, but charities, land managers, farmers, conservationists, environmentalists and more. We are trying. We were unable to launch the consultation with a bang because of coronavirus. The Great Northumberland Forest is a brilliant example of stakeholders coming together to create those proper partnerships.


Q. Richard Cook: There seems little point in planting millions more until the squirrel problem is dealt with. Why is government not backing the Roslin Research Programme (University of Edinburgh) as a matter of urgency?

 A. I am encouraging DEFRA to look at natural solutions, working with nature. In Northern Ireland, the explosion in numbers of pine martens has reduced grey squirrel numbers and allowed the red squirrel to flourish. We are considering the reintroduction of formerly native species, like pine marten and goshawks, to keep numbers down.

Submit feedback to the England Tree Strategy Consultation online here.

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