Carolyne Locher provides an account of the virtual Forestry Conference 2020.

IN its third year, the Forestry Conference (held during Grown in Britain week) was organised by the CLA (Country Land and Business Association), the Forestry Commission and Grown in Britain, and aimed to provide strategic information and advice to help inform land ownership and management decisions.

With headlines like ‘Good for Business’, ‘Good for the Planet’ and ‘Good for the Future’, speakers sought to highlight forestry’s benefits from a business and conservation perspective.

 Utilising conferencing software Remo, the virtual presentation room was organised with presenters at the front and over 200 delegates at circular tables where they could interact with each other using chat functions or by sending direct messages. Four ‘floors’ accessed by virtual lifts included spaces to meet and network privately.

Keynote speaker and current chair of the Forestry Commission, Sir William Worsley, began: “Landowners are key. They own the land we need to plant trees.

“In Autumn 2019, to meet net-zero carbon targets by 2050 and with councils declaring climate emergencies, the scale of tree planting required was identified. COVID-19 focussed on immediate needs and impacts. We now must consider the medium- and long-term economic green recovery.”

Forestry as a land use fits with long-term thinking and Sir William meets regularly with ministers, DEFRA directors, Natural England and the Environment Agency.

“The FC is becoming more important and forestry is becoming mainstream alongside agriculture,” he said.

The £640m Nature for Climate fund and England Tree Strategy support increased woodland creation and better-managed woodlands. “Planting 30,000 ha of new woods a year across the UK by 2025 is a huge increase on current planting levels. Future funding mechanisms must be simpler and less bureaucratic,” Sir William said.

“Support mechanisms for ‘new markets with wider benefits’ include the Woodland Carbon Guarantee. So far, two auctions with 45 successful bids are creating 1,700 ha of new woods. The average price paid per carbon unit (first auction £24.07, second auction £19.71) should make new planting more attractive. Local authorities (and others) are identifying land suitable and promoting trees and woodlands in local nature recovery strategies.

“Government supports ‘blended finance’ solutions (highlighted in the Environmental Land Management scheme consultation). There is private sector interest in forestry investment (motivated by social responsibility and net-zero carbon).”

Other enablers include a £2m fund to support forestry businesses, research (increasing bio-tree stock sourced and grown in the UK), increasing private and small-scale community tree nurseries. “We are investing in Forestry England nurseries, in seed extraction, increasing capacity, and the range of species and provenance (increasing resilience to climate change and other threats).”

Increasing forestry sector capacity and improving good practice requires collaboration. February’s Forestry Skills Action Plan highlighted the need to raise awareness of career opportunities, tap new talent, make education provision and upgrade skills. A ‘Forest Apprenticeship’ and ‘Woodland Management T-Level’ are planned.

“The ambition for more woodland relies on how a landowner chooses to manage their land, their objectives and the long-term benefits around it,” said Sir William. “Focus on what you want to do with your land, then consider how grants can assist your aim.

“Consider the new markets for carbon and biodiversity and how trees can help reduce soil erosion, shelter livestock or enhance game management. Poor-quality unmanaged woodlands do not provide the benefits an owner initially sought.”

Supporting diverse landscape-scale treescapes able to cope with known and unknown threats, “requires a range of responses, broadleaves and conifer, native and non-native, with consideration for provenance. Planted, naturally regenerated or rewilded, this landscape includes trees, scrub, shrub and other semi-natural habitats: land management considered from the life-cycle perspective. On your land, all have to meet your objectives. Environmental benefits can be achieved alongside other objectives simultaneously.”

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The day’s first session began with CLA president Mark Bridgeman. The CLA represents 30,000 members, owning approximately half the land in England and Wales, owning 84 per cent and 62 per cent of the trees respectively.

The CLA contributed five points to the England Tree Strategy consultation:

1. Retain and properly resource the FC.

2. Simplification and proportionality (in forestry schemes).

3. Clarify where woodland creation fits into future government schemes.

4. Develop domestic markets for the woodland industry.

5. Permanence. Review the idea that once a tree is planted, it is forever. More flexibility is needed around small woodlands and agroforestry.

Mark said: “Going forward, how will the Nature for Climate fund work. We need a quicker, predictable process for new tree planting, to avoid a wait-and-see (until ELMs in 2024) mentality.

“For unmanaged woodland, we need financial support for 20-plus years of management, alleviating cashflow issues for farmers taking land out of agricultural production.

“For landowners, the potential for trees is the private markets (carbon) and biodiversity ‘net gain’ (worth up to £1.2 billion a year) to fund a range of projects.

“To conclude, it is an exciting time for a landowner with trees and the potential for more planting. Government is ambitious. Clarity and execution will be key.”

Oliver Combe of said: “We talk about the non-market benefits of woodland and ELMs. As yet, none puts cashflow into the woodlands. Currently, your primary activity to realise cash is timber sales.”

The last quarter of 2020 has seen high timber prices, but whether this is a long-term trend or a spike he was not sure. Overall global demand has fallen, but supply has fallen more quickly. In England, demand has been steady while supply has fallen (possibly pandemic-related).  Generally, softwood prices are increasing, while hardwood has dropped 15 per cent since 2018 due to oversupply.

For those considering planting woodlands, he recommended employing a professional manager. “Good silviculture pays off. Invest in your crops. Invest in good management. Quality always sells.”

Niel Nicholson, director of Nicholsons, announced the new collaborative not-for-profit Forestry Canopy Foundation. Founder members include professional forestry businesses Abbey Forestry, Lockhart Garratt, Nicholsons, Penfolds and Pryor & Rickett.

“To achieve government targets, we need accelerated woodland creation and to plant commercial forests at scale, encouraging farmers to see planting as a viable option,” he said. This could be supported through extra funding from ‘blended finance’.

Able to administer large sums of investment and facilitate projects on the ground through member delivery partners, FCF offers transparency to corporate investors. Covered by 25-year contracts, all projects are audited by GiB and trials (anticipating ELMs) begin this winter.

FCF would like to hear from landowners, philanthropic individuals, corporates and small-to-medium forestry businesses (audited by GiB for approved ‘expert provider’ status).


Professor Gideon Henderson, DEFRA’s chief scientific advisor for climate change mitigation and adaptation, carbon reduction and biodiversity recovery, began: “In 2021, we will be recovering from COVID-19, the economic damage and adjusting to life outside the EU, with the repatriated functions this encompasses. In 2021, we take over the G7 presidency. We host COP15 (biodiversity) and COP26 (climate change) and will have international influence in these two areas.”

Reaching ‘net zero’ by 2050 involves substantial change in all UK economic sectors. “Tree planting in England, 10,000 ha a year by 2025 and maintaining it thereafter, is a significant increase on previous years (the most planted annually was 6,500 ha in 1971), funded by the Nature for Climate fund. Challenges include competition for land, from peat restoration, space needed for growing biomass and land ownership.

“To meet the tree contribution to net zero, we need a diverse range of planting, to a standard (UKFS), including single-species commercial forestry, non-commercial woods, old growth plantations (e.g. oak, for future generations) and rewilding.

“We need planting on all types of land, including in cities, towns, peri-urban areas and on government land. We need a diverse mix. DEFRA is considering planting approximately 70 per cent broadleaf, 30 per cent conifer. Significantly more broadleaf is currently planted and will be factored into future carbon budgets.

“In UNFCCC accounting, biomass (coupled with carbon capture and storage technology) helps to meet carbon budgets and we get to net zero in those scenarios in international projections.

“A government strategy on biomass (2021, developed by BEIS) could highlight managing currently unmanaged woodlands, dedicated forestry for biomass production (fast-growing conifers and short-rotation forestry), willow (short-rotation coppice and new species like Pawlonia) and agroforestry as land becomes available (post-CAP).”

Then there are the trees themselves. A temperature rise of two degrees (best-case scenario) impacts animal and plant ecosystems. “Plan, perhaps assisting adaptation (transplanting species from elsewhere), maximise diversity and the resilience our natural trees have to change, be it from temperature or water,” said Professor Henderson.

“We need the public to recognise the benefits received from trees and forests. For the forestry sector to grow, we need trained foresters, a skilled workforce and forest scientists to help prepare for adaptation challenges and for plant health and disease, as we go through climate change.

“In climate change mitigation, removing carbon from the atmosphere with trees remains the central challenge. If the climate changes, biodiversity suffers, humans suffer. Trees are part of the solution, as well as all the other benefits they bring.”

Vicky Fletcher, general manager of the National Trust’s 600 ha property Mottisfont and 2,000 ha of land in the South West Hampshire portfolio, previously led Oxfordshire County Council’s climate emergency strategy.

“Making sure the timber we use is sustainable, increasing woodland management to benefit biodiversity, and ensuring that when we plant, we know what we are planting on and its impact on existing habitats and biodiversity, are important,” she said.

The National Trust stewards 1.5 per cent of England’s land and its ‘net zero by 2030’ pledge contributes to national carbon budgets. It aims to establish 18,000 ha of wood pasture and agroforestry habitats and, as ‘custodian of carbon’ (100,000 ha of priority habitats store 290,000 carbon tonnes per year, 75 per cent in upland Atlantic oak woodland, deciduous woodland, and upland heath), hopes to create 25,000 ha of priority habitat.

Locally, Mottisfont’s 300 ha of woodlands, popular with walkers, comprise overstood hazel coppice with standards, broadleaf plantation and coniferous plantation. Widening rides and creating open space has benefitted barbastelle bats and butterflies. Woodland management releases firewood for sale, and restored hazel coppice has contributed more products. Substituting oil for a 202 kW biomass boiler (fuelling a district heating system) saves 90 carbon tonnes a year. A new visitor centre, built using ‘passive house’ measures, uses 48 per cent less carbon than a non-energy-efficient building.

Sir Charles Burrell showcased the successes for biodiversity and wildlife using natural regeneration to establish new treescapes at Knepp Estate.

Twenty years into the rewilding process, a complex matrix of plant communities has been established. Initially driven by rootling, grazing and browsing ungulates, arable soils have regenerated and, with the protection of scrubby thorn, young trees (single and groves, mainly oak) are establishing themselves. Meat and nature tourism (wildlife safaris) bring income (and people) to the estate.

“When mature, these treescapes will form one of the most enjoyable landscapes in England, supporting healthy resilient tree populations, with the natural defences to help withstand warming temperatures, extreme weather events, pollution and disease, increasing carbon sequestration (above and below ground) and sustaining biodiversity,” said Sir Charles.

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Sarah Jane Chimbwandira, CEO of Surrey Wildlife Trust, led the third session of the day. With 27,000 members, Surrey Wildlife Trust manages 4 per cent of the county’s land, including 38,000 ha of woodlands, protecting nature and making sure people can access it. Surrey, the most wooded county in England, contains many small and undermanaged woodlands.

“In Surrey, 14 per cent of species are locally extinct and 30 per cent are threatened,” said Sarah Jane. “The pandemic has shown that people need access to the natural environment, and COVID-19 has shown that society cannot deal with economic shocks. For resilience to the likes of climate breakdown, we need to make sure systems can cope. A green recovery approach, including nature-based solutions, is important.”

Surrey’s nature delivers services worth over £90 million annually. Undermanaged woods increase biodiversity decline. Sarah Jane said: “We know what to do: Bring smaller woods back into management – with the right supply chains and outlets for products – and bring biodiversity back.”

She suggested planting new woodlands where people have limited access and working them sustainably to generate timber and support supply chains, making the case for new jobs and skills as young people enter a tough job market. “Healthy, well-managed woodlands are fundamental to our natural environment, and that underpins our health, well-being and economy,” she added.

Forestry Journal: The conference’s keynote speech was delivered by chair of the Forestry Commission, Sir William Worsley.The conference’s keynote speech was delivered by chair of the Forestry Commission, Sir William Worsley.

David Robertson, director of investment and business development for Scottish Woodlands, said drivers for corporate forestry investment include environmental and social governance (ESG) and carbon. “The benefit for investor relations and marketing cannot be underestimated. In Scotland, Brewdog is the world’s first carbon-neutral brewer, offsetting its own carbon emissions (and those of their upstream and downstream suppliers). The social media exposure has been huge.”

The UK’s net-zero target is 25 to 30 years away (Scotland by 2045). “Corporate entities are not only seeking financial returns, they are looking at what they can finance in terms of ESG. In future, these investments will provide greater ecosystem services. We will see how that develops.”

Funding to enhance and protect natural capital through woodland creation and peatland restoration is likely to increase, as will partnerships between industry, government and individuals. Money generated by carbon projects is likely to be funded by sales of carbon credits to those that cannot reduce their output (power generators) by 2050.

Craig Harrison added: “It is important to match investors’ objectives with those of landowners for mutual benefit.”

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Steph Rhodes, Forestry Commission delivery director for the England Tree Planting Strategy, said that to help reconcile government objectives with those of landowners and managers and changes in land use and management, and to make woodland creation and management an appealing proposition to more landowners and managers, the FC will: “Support diversity in woodland and woodland creation routes, support the development of thriving markets, take a pragmatic approach to regulation and guidance, improve our services to ensure processes are easier to understand, maintain high standards (UKFS), communicate how the landscape will change, and base policy and guidance on the best available advice (on pests, disease and climate change, we are learning as we go).”

There are “high expectations of what forestry can deliver, needing revolution not evolution in the way things are set up. Forestry as a wider land-management solution to meet policy priorities can only be successful if supports appeal to, and function for, landowners and land managers, now, and in the long term.”

Sir William Worsley brought the conference to an end by thanking the CLA, the Forestry Commission, GiB CEO Dougal Driver and the speakers. Noting the virtual nature of the event, he remarked: “Think of the carbon savings of not travelling to a conference and how we are learning how to work differently.”

Forestry Conference 2021 will be held on 13 October 2021.

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