Carolyne Locher provides an account of the Forestry Conference 2021 and its focus on the future.

CO-HOSTED by CLA South East, Grown in Britain and the Forestry Commission, and supported by Pryor and Rickett, ‘Forestry Conference 2021: An Era of Opportunity; Understanding Possibilities and Enhancing your Prospects’ considered global issues, national policy and local examples.

CLA vice president Victoria Vyvyan welcomed more than 200 in-person and virtual attendees and introduced the event: “2021 has been an auspicious year for trees and forestry. The English Trees Action Plan (ETAP) contains many of the points lobbied for: money (the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO)); skills; nursery support; funding for research. Challenges remain: stock; labour shortages; landlord and tenant issues.”

Lord Deben, chair of the Independent Committee on Climate Change (CCC), began the keynote address by saying: “We must recognise what we are trying to do and why. 

“Climate change began with the Industrial Revolution. All nations that are rich today are rich because of pollution. Climate change will get worse: it is in the system and we are playing catch-up. There will be a period where, whatever we do, it becomes more obvious. As people become more aware, supported by scientific facts – at home, spring comes 17 days later than in 1960 and pollinators are out of kilter with the blossom – support will increase. 

Forestry Journal: CLA vice president Victoria Vyvyan described 2021 as an auspicious year for forestry.CLA vice president Victoria Vyvyan described 2021 as an auspicious year for forestry.

“People need confidence that change can be made in a reasonable way. ‘Net zero’ by 2050 is doable at less than one per cent of GDP. Costs do not fall fairly and the state must carry through with moral and practical requirements at COP26, supporting the poorest nations to adapt from where they are – to where we are – without the intervening ‘dirty stage’ (pollution).

“To ensure climate change does not become a global disaster, we must recognise that net zero means ‘net’ and ‘zero’. Humans exude emissions, as do animals.

“How do we ensure those emissions are compensated for via sequestration? Because we won’t get to zero unless we recognise part of that is to enhance the world’s ability to absorb carbon. This is where forestry comes in, as part of a tri-partite operation.” 

There are three sequestration mechanisms: planting trees, enhancing soil sequestration (changing farming practises) and, after clearing plastics from our seacoasts, planting sea grass and kelp. “Always remind government of this,” said Lord Deben.

“The role of forestry. The trouble is that it creates rows, many saying ‘it has to be broadleaf’. Learn from the past, of where to plant trees, where not to plant, and those places in between. Manage the trees planted for sequestration (the ‘net’ of ‘net zero’) by rewarding people for the forestry and the ends asked for. 

Forestry Journal: Government must be made aware of the barriers to tree planting, said Lord DebenGovernment must be made aware of the barriers to tree planting, said Lord Deben

“The structure to enable a forestry industry to emerge is currently missing. Learn from offshore wind: government spent £6.7 billion to build the industry and half our energy (the cheapest half) now comes from renewables. To create a market for the wood produced, DEFRA (agriculture) and BEIS (industry) must work together to create a total picture, including offshore sequestration and a better understanding of how we sequestrate in soils. Restoring peatlands alongside the regeneration of other soils is crucial.

“The Pope said, ‘Climate change is the symptom of what we have done to the world’. Everything is interconnected: biodiversity and soil, pollution and poverty. Unless government thinks of the forestry industry and growing trees in this systemic way, what we plant for the future will not be successful.

“From influencing policy [ETAP], the next step is to recognise the many things that have to happen and to ensure that they do. We need tree stock for planting by skilled workers that are properly paid (long-term financial support and taxation opportunities).

“What has not been thought about? Let government know the barriers to the planting that could take place. We must remove the bits that get in the way.”

He concluded: “Net zero is both ‘net’ and ‘zero’. We must have ‘net’ if we want to continue living on a planet that has always absorbed carbon, and we must enhance it to make up for the damage we have done. Supporting enhancement must be long-term, for planting and for the industry that we then satisfy. To do it, we need the people and the stock. Put it all together and press government, not to talk or write articles about it, or to say how good they are at it, but to do it.”


Jane Hull, the Forestry Commission’s area director, introduced ‘Session 1: Payment for Public Benefit’, with Bella Murfin and Naomi Matthiessen, DEFRA co-directors for the Tree Planting Programme, outlining the current situation.

Murfin said: “England’s tree-planting rates are broadly static (2,000 ha/pa) and management levels are low. ETAP, a long-term vision to 2050 and beyond (hopes include trebling England’s planting rates by the end of this parliament), kick-started by £500 million from the Nature for Climate Fund (NCF), is now in the delivery phase. EWCO (£15 million in 2021) contains explicit supplementary payments for biodiversity, public access and water quality.”

Further funding (and policies) include the Urban Trees Challenge Fund (extended to include new guidance under the National Model Design Code when introducing trees into urban and peri-urban environments) and the Local Authority Treescapes Fund, which makes £2.7 m available (2021/2022) for trees outside woodlands.
Matthiessen illustrated government support for new woodland creation for public benefit.

The Riverscapes Partnership Project hopes to engage landowners and farmers in planting riparian woodlands, initially in six pilot areas, with further potential to cover 246,262 km of waterways (3,150 ha).

She said: “DEFRA is developing mechanisms allowing private finance to fund public benefits, a Woodland Water Code and Nature Impact Fund.”
The Forestry Commission’s head of woodland creation incentives, Sam Pollock, outlined the support mechanisms on offer.

The Woodland Creation Planning Grant (WCPG) de-risks potential woodland proposals (over five hectares) and offers up to 70 per cent of costs for specialist surveys. Applicants must register in advance with the RPA (for ELMS 2025).

EWCO, for UKFS-compliant woodlands (over one hectare), pays 100 per cent of standard costs (up to £8,500 per ha) and management (£200 per ha annual maintenance payment) for the first 10 years, and 40 per cent of costs for forestry access infrastructure, or 100 per cent for infrastructure allowing public access. Additionally, six stackable payments (conditions apply) recognise the public benefits of ‘nature recovery’, ‘flood risk’, ‘water quality’, ‘riparian buffer’ and ‘social benefits’ (recreational access/woodlands close to settlements). Most applications currently access two or more payments. Landowners can continue to claim the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) on eligible land planted under EWCO.

The Woodland Carbon Guarantee (WCaG) (Woodland Carbon Code) gives a guaranteed price for the woodland carbon units captured.

The FC hopes soon to facilitate penalty-free transfers between the Countryside Stewardship and EWCO grant schemes.

Chairman of Lockhart Garratt, John Lockhart, offered thoughts on private finance, saying that ‘biodiversity net gain’ is an emerging market whose value is, as yet, unknown.

Against DEFRA’s ‘Biodiversity Metric 3.0’ and the ‘Environmental Benefits from Nature’ tool, woodland now scores highly against 18 ecosystem services criteria. “Capturing those benefits and stacking them together will be key,” he said. 

Forestry Journal: The conference’s keynote speech was delivered by chair of the Independent Committee on Climate Change, John Selwyn Gummer, Lord Deben.The conference’s keynote speech was delivered by chair of the Independent Committee on Climate Change, John Selwyn Gummer, Lord Deben.

“Local nature recovery networks will cover approximately 500,000 ha. Biodiversity credits have values attributed of £15,000 – 20,000 per credit or more. A new 21 ha mixed species woodland with a productive function may deliver  approximately 45 credits and twice as high for broadleaf woodlands. 

“We need mechanisms that combine public grants and private finance, allowing both to operate in the same space to deliver commercially viable land-use change.”

Facilitated by the Forest Canopy Foundation (FCF), the first project to pair a landowner (Blenheim Estate) with a corporate (construction company Morgan Sindall) and grant funding with private carbon investment, may begin imminently.


Grown in Britain’s Dougal Driver introduced ‘Session 2: Growing Stock to Sell’. Cowdray Estate’s head forester Nina Williams highlighted some key considerations for growing good-quality timber. She said: “Know your long-term goals, know what you have and how fast it is growing, and know what can be sustainably harvested from the landscape.”

If the sale of carbon credits can happen in stands of timber managed for production: “We are in a good place for the future.”

Neil Harrison, commercial director of re:heat, said he sat on the Forestry Workforce Report team, which found that in order to meet government planting targets, the forestry workforce (across all grades) must increase 600 per cent by 2030.

On the topic of fuel, Harrison said: “The RHI created 17,234 non-domestic biomass installations (chip) and 12,000 domestic installations (wood-pellet or log systems), a market for about two million tonnes of UK woodfuel over the last 10 years.

“Allocating £1 billion to an unregulated market saw the system being abused. The RHI’s end coincides with mergers in the woodfuel and timber processing supply chains and boiler removals as users switch fuels. The legacy is the reputational damage to biomass heat as a source of low-carbon energy.”

Forestry Journal:  Government and corporations both see the potential for biomass, according to Neil Harrison. Government and corporations both see the potential for biomass, according to Neil Harrison.

Yet, as gas and fossil fuel prices rise, biomass becomes more economical. Corporates recognise its potential for decarbonising their business.

Government also sees its potential. In 2022, BEIS (the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) launches a new ‘Biostrategy’, having funded the ‘Biomass Feedstock Innovation Programme’, the ‘Industrial Fuel Switching Programme’ (all forms of biomass), the ‘Heat Network Investment Programme’, and the ‘Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme’ (Salix) for which biomass is now eligible. 

Speaking on markets, Richard Baker of Wessex Woodland Management said the price of hardwood increased considerably during the pandemic, oak planking reaching £550 per square metre. The average price of conifer standing sales has risen 135 per cent over the last 10 years, although chipwood prices fell during the pandemic as a result of warmer weather and LHR’s biomass plant shutting energy production. As gas prices and fuel prices rise, firewood producers (North) are selling out.

He said: “The pandemic, Brexit, and the rising cost of shipping containers (£2,000 up to 20,000 per container) and their piling up around the world will likely affect the Christmas market, showing the value of a shorter supply chain. Woodland creation is 100-per-cent funded. For anyone with marginal land, get involved and plant trees for production and all the other benefits they provide.”


CLA regional director Tim Bamford introduced ‘Session 3: Natural Capitalisation, New Markets’. Harry Greenfield, CLA senior land use adviser, explained environmental net gain.

The Environment Bill states that a biodiversity net gain (BNG) of 10 per cent for 30 years must be demonstrated in every design submitted to a local authority as a precondition of getting planning permission. Net gain can be demonstrated by minimising the impact on wildlife/nature, by introducing new biodiversity features, delivering off-site compensatory habitat, or by buying credits in schemes already up and running in a local nature recovery network.

Opportunities for land managers include considering the additional environmental outcomes that their land or current woodland schemes could deliver to increase their biodiversity units, without any loss of profit, or offset by BNG or other funding.

He said: “Any and all new markets need governance, standard accreditation and measurements that are transparent.”

United Utilities’ Jo Harrison, director of environment, planning and innovation, asked: ‘How Far Can You Go?’  

United Utilities supplies water to seven million customers in the North-West. As the country’s largest corporate landowner (56,000 ha), it has pledged to deliver 1,000 ha of peatland restoration and 550 ha of new woodland (plants from two newly established nurseries) as part of its net zero by 2030 commitments. A donation to the Ribble Rivers Trust is funding the development of a water woodland code to demonstrate natural flood management benefits.

Working with partners on a DEFRA-supported project, they are trialling the creation of new green markets. Churchtown, near Blackpool, sees flooding on a regular basis, from sewers (UT responsibility), a river (Environment Agency responsibility) and from surface water (local authority responsibility). It is never severe enough to warrant owner-investment to stop it. The Woodland Trust is planting trees in the uplands and the Rivers Trust has established a ‘Community Investment Company’ as ‘Special Purpose Vehicle’ for the buyers and sellers of ecosystem services in the area.  The agency beneficiaries pay an annual fee for the delivery of these services, including the insurance industry, which benefits from flooding being stopped at source.

Richard Palmer, director of leisure business Forest Holidays, a joint venture with the FC, spoke on non-timber products, forestry as an enabler to wider businesses.

He said: “Government (DEFRA) wants the FC to deliver the triple bottom line – people, nature, economy – and we deliver.” All 11 sites (across England, Scotland and Wales) are operated on long leases and enjoy (on average) a 90 per cent occupancy rate. “People visit our sites for nature and activities, spending (across all sites) £2 million annually within the local economy.”

All sites are open access, employ a forest ranger, host forest schools, and boast woodland and landscape management plans and ecological enhancement plans.

He sees UK forest tourism as a growing market but warns that it is a challenging full-time job, requiring large upfront financial investment in planning, infrastructure and marketing.

Stewards of the 1,000 ha Hampton Estate in Surrey, Bridget, Bill and Molly Biddell offer a ‘whole-land-use case study’.

Near to many population centres, Hampton Estate has been managed by multiple generations of the same family. For the last 25 years, estate management has focused on diversification, community engagement and niche markets. Two full-time foresters (including consultant Kevin Penfold) manage woodlands that cover just under 50 per cent of the estate, including wooded heathland (open access and right to roam over CROW land), blocks of conifer and mixed broadleaf (permissive access) and smaller ASNW woodlands.

Under a 20-year management plan, in addition to ongoing timber sales from commercial harvesting (and replanting) operations to restructure single-age conifer stands (P1950s), the woods produce coppice for fencing and hop poles, firewood, and woodchip (two RHI biomass boilers). Venison, a by-product of deer control (future-proofing the woodlands), is sold alongside beef. 

Two years ago, an application was made to create a new, partly productive 13 ha woodland across the Hog’s Back, a steep ‘set aside’ chalk downland slope (with little value for agricultural) backing on to the busy A31. Following extensive consultations (with locals, the parish and many agencies), the scheme was placed on the public register. The very unproductive woodland (50 per cent chalk downland and open habitat and 50 per cent open woodland) may get the go-ahead for planting this winter.

Testing the market potential of carbon offsetting, the Hog’s Back scheme created (approximately) 2,000 PIUs (Pending Issuance Unit) over 100 years. Calculating costs and income foregone, the project makes financial sense at £42 per PIU. Hampton was unsuccessful in the 2020 WCaG auctions, because “the average value paid was half of our bid,” said Molly. “We want to sell ‘charismatic carbon’, with the additional benefits layered in, not just carbon sequestered, but biodiversity offset and views over the Surrey Hills.” They will revisit this market in 10 years.

Forestry Journal: Richard Palmer, director of leisure business Forest HolidaysRichard Palmer, director of leisure business Forest Holidays

If ‘biodiversity net gain’ gains traction, Hampton is almost ready. Last year, ecology firm EPR undertook a BNG ‘scoping study,’ making baseline assessments and suggesting habitat enhancement options across the whole estate. For example, a 40 ha ‘moderate condition’ woodland, growing on what historically was heathland, could, if managed to ‘good condition,’ generate approximately 100 BNG units. Molly said: “DEFRA believe the average price per unit will be around £11,000. We have seen higher numbers, possibly in the region of £1 million for that block.” The study also revealed that deforestation, reverting to heathland, would create many more units.

“The study highlights that we must decide what the optimal land-use across the estate is. What and why are we using the land? Is it for beauty, ecology, people, the productive capacity, and how do we ensure a balance?”

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Wider funding questions remain. “With stewardship schemes across most woodlands, how do we now stack and bundle different ecosystem services and blend multiple sources of finance going forward?”

Aware of the need to maximize the financial opportunities that Hampton’s woods can provide, Bridget concluded: “Going forward, we will need to be more specific on what compartments are trying to achieve. No matter what markets come and go, inherent value in biodiversity and carbon storage will remain.” 

Offering an international focus, Hilary Allison, environmental consultant and Forestry Commissioner, said: “For woodland owners, managers and businesses working at a local level, it can be easy to forget that we are connected with what happens elsewhere in the world, thinking that with less than 0.08 per cent of the global forest stock, England or the UK’s woodlands do not matter. 

“The opportunities talked about today come out of the conjoined climate and nature crises. The causes and solutions are linked and must be tackled together through nature-based solutions, including sustainable land management and ecosystem restoration. Forests play a key part.”

Internationally, three current developments relate directly to forests: COP26; the UN Biodiversity Conference in China; the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (possibly good for further funding opportunities). All three are crucial for increasing commitments and action. “The irony being that the current distractions of economic recession, global pandemics and human conflicts have their roots in degraded environments, including forests.”

She reminded attendees that the world’s forests have taken multiple hits this year, with increased deforestation and fires. “The global efforts to tackle the climate and nature crises depend on forest restoration and, while the UK may not have many forests, we have made our mark globally, to forest protection, conservation and promotion of legal trade. Managing our forests well gives us more legitimacy in international negotiations. 

“Our day-to-day purchasing decisions - as individuals and business consumers – connect us with forests and people who depend on forests around the world (telecoupling). We are all interconnected. Consider that there are business advantages (nature-based enterprises with strong sustainable credentials) and environmental gain from scrutinising your own business operations end-to-end in the drive to reduce emissions and protect nature. Think global, act local.”

Tim Bamford closed the conference, thanking the FC, GiB, Pryor & Rickett, his team at the CLA and attendees. He concluded: “‘Charismatic carbon credits’ is my new favourite phrase. There is still uncertainty on both carbon and biodiversity, but we hope for more detail next year. There is still opportunity, both in the short term and long term, for forestry, foresters and landowners. I think it is a great place to be.”
For more information about the CLA and its work visit:
Twitter: @CLASouthEast 
The Forestry Conference will return in October 2022.