THE All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and Tree Planting met virtually to ask: One year on from the general election, is the government on course to meet its planting targets?

Event host David Lee reminded the audience of the planting aspiration: “30,000 ha a year, every year across the UK by 2025.”

APPG chair Ben Lake MP welcomed all to the meeting: “Much is happening. The EFRA (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee) inquiry into targets, whether they can be met, stopped taking written evidence last week. In his 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, the Prime Minister reiterated the target and the Chancellor confirmed funding in his spending review. However, disappointing planting figures for England laid out the challenges.

“Last month at the Oxford Farming Conference, Environment Secretary George Eustice launched the Agriculture Transition Plan (a sustainable roadmap for the future of farm support). Responding to a question from Confor’s Caroline Ayre, the minister said productive forestry has a critical role to play in meeting targets. His exact words, ‘We will never get that kind of area of woodland creation, unless a significant chunk is commercial forestry as a big part of our plan.’ There is still much work to do.”

Forestry Journal: Caroline Ayre.Caroline Ayre.

“England needs to plant 7,500 ha of new woodland each year by 2025 to meet overall UK targets,” said Caroline Ayre, Confor national manager for England. “From April to September 2020, only 763 ha were newly planted with trees in England.”

She suggested a review of processes similar to Scotland’s under Jim Mackinnon, and a coordinated UK-wide approach to planting linked to targets for other political objectives. “Link tree planting and increased management of existing woodlands with the use of wood: a seed-to-mill approach.”

There are positives: regional partnerships are gaining momentum (Cornwall, Northumberland); political support from Lord Goldsmith; the Environmental Land Management Scheme is taking shape; a new England Tree Strategy; the hope that the EFRA inquiry will shine light on planting failures. “Let’s learn from Scotland and drive up planting rates in England and Wales,” she said.

Vastern Timber processes hardwoods, 90 per cent grown locally, selling mostly into the construction and renovation sectors. Managing director Tom Barnes said: “Once the processors have gone, they are unlikely to return and the new trees planted will have little value beyond biomass.

Forestry Journal: Edward Barker.Edward Barker.

“Only seven per cent of hardwoods used in the UK come from the UK. We import 7 million m³ of sawn timber. Almost every builder’s merchant ran out of building timber in the first few weeks of the pandemic.” He suggested substituting materials and fuels that emit large amounts of fossil-based CO2 and other pollutants with native timbers.

“We need to plant more, manage more and use more. Agriculture and food production are intrinsically linked; a farmer wouldn’t plant a crop and consider his job done. Yet, we talk of tree planting with no mention of management or harvesting and wood production. Without management, planting will not contribute to CO2 reduction targets or produce any meaningful woodland. Those in power should stop peddling misinformation.”

READ MORE: Residents hit out at 'severe measures' taken over ash dieback

In 2016, Jim Mackinnon CBE, the former chief planner for Scotland, reviewed Scotland’s planting procedures. The review is credited with turning around Scotland’s forestry planting fortunes. From planting 4,600 ha in 2016, Scotland is on course to plant 12,000 ha next season.

While recommendations for process improvements helped, for Mackinnon, it was “marrying the political drive with processing improvements” that made it a reality. “From the review, the FC developed an action plan,” he said. “Two seminars were attended by Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing to ensure there was progress on the recommendations: a strong, sustained political commitment.”

Forestry Journal: Tom Barnes.Tom Barnes.

Following a similar review in the Republic of Ireland, he is unsure what progress has been made.

“A ‘vision for forestry’ does not help progress on the ground,” he said. “Align the ‘vision’ with a real understanding of process and what the key problems are. While process improvement is important, it has to be driven by a senior political figure who can make things happen.”

Edward Barker, director, natural environment, trees and landscapes, at DEFRA, and Stephanie Rhodes, delivery director for the England tree planting programme at the Forestry Commission, outlined how the manifesto’s planting commitments are being addressed.

Barker said: “The England Tree Strategy (published early 2021) sets out the long-term framework for delivery for people making decisions to plant trees or improve management of existing woodlands. The Nature for Climate fund provides a funding bridge to the start of ELMs (2024/2025), making sure incentives flow into the future. We are keen to draw in private investment, so there is more money. An announcement was made on community forests to ramp up planting. Clearly, it is a steep path, and a lot of the growth comes in the next couple of years. I think we have made a good start.”

Forestry Journal: Ben Lake.Ben Lake.

The England Tree Planting programme will focus on delivery and enabling that delivery. Steph Rhodes outlined the delivery mechanisms as:

1. Developing woodland creation partnerships, stakeholder partners to support regional proposals for landscape-scale planting in, or around, peri-urban areas.

2. Planting on private land with improved grants, regulation and guidance, to increase uptake and to make the procedure easier, and supporting local authorities’ responses to ash dieback.

3. Expanding forests on Forestry England land as well as land owned by other public bodies.

READ MORE: Temporary arrangements for forestry grants during COVID-19

To enable delivery, they will build capacity for the seed-to-mill trajectory. To promote large-scale land-use change, they will engage and communicate with, promote and market to landowners, land managers and new audiences, to try and convince them that new woodland creation is the right choice where it might help meet their objectives.

Nearing the end of the meeting, David Lee mentioned events in 2021. “The EFRA inquiry will take oral evidence in the New Year, the England Tree Strategy is due to be published and there will be more APPG discussions,” he said. “Thank you to Chair Ben Lake for his support during a challenging year.”

Forestry Journal: Jim Mackinnon CBE.Jim Mackinnon CBE.

Ben Lake MP closed: “It is starting to feel like there is the willpower to start planting many more trees. The challenge will be in keeping up the momentum and to take actions to allow that planting at scale, whether that is a Mackinnon-style review of planting rules and regulations in England and Wales, target cooperation across the UK or more resources for the agencies to make planting happen. As Tom pointed out, we need all these actions and more. I feel optimistic that we are moving in the right direction.”


Lord Carrington remarked: “To grow trees, we need land, the obvious being arable and grassland. There is no information on how farmers will make profit from growing trees, and trees will not be planted until a farmer knows the financial implications. DEFRA must offer detail.”

A. EB: “Many people are raising this issue. There will be incentives available before ELMs comes in. We are trying to ensure that those incentives are not undermined and flow through in the future.”

David Lee asked Richard Greenhous, director of forest services, Forestry England: “Are you confident of achieving planting targets across the UK by 2025? What is the progress to date, given the figure of 736 ha in the first six months?

A. “It is a steep trajectory. Collaborating with Scotland and Wales as well, the programme being put together gives us the best chance of achieving that target.”

David Lee asked Andy Howard to reflect on the joined-up nature of government from his time at Doddington, the largest modern forest in England. “Where could it improve?”

A. “At Doddington, the FC was supportive and much was learned on the Woodland Creation Planning grant. The issue is follow-on mechanisms. In Scotland, one point of contact in the conservancy sees a scheme through and enables delivery. In England, there is no continuity. If you do the hard work but cannot deliver, it does not give confidence.”

David Lee asked Jim Mackinnon, “Where did the dots need joining?”

A. “Through the review, industry and professional foresters saw government was serious, there was a common purpose. The business case is critical. If you are trying to achieve 5,000 ha or 7,500 ha of new woodland, it will not happen through small farm forestry schemes; you need much bigger chunks of woodland. Focus on the process to make sure blockages are unblocked and get someone of sufficient importance to drive this forward to make sure targets are delivered and to step in to relieve the blockages.”

David Lee asked Tom Barnes, “Do you feel things are joined up?”

A. “I am no expert on planting. For us, nothing is joined up. Hardwood and specialist softwood differs to commercial conifer plantations. Our supply is fragmented, mostly from private estates.”

Q. How can we create a positive view of forestry and the whole chain?

A. TB: “Scandinavia has many trees per person. The US: 700 trees per person. France: 182. The UK: 47.  In some countries, people are connected and understand woodlands and the landscape and how they actually work. In Forestry England polls, the general public wants woods to be left alone and protected. Start admitting that forestry includes chainsaws, felling and killing squirrels and deer. If we don’t, that void gets filled with ignorance, however well-meaning.  Forestry needs to become normalised and the woods thought of as a hive of activity. Stop talking about tree planting in isolation.”

Q. What would a Mackinnon-style review in England tell us that we do not already know?

A. CA: “We know what needs to change, but it needs to be independent. The Mackinnon Review was short, sharp and gave some clear recommendations.”

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