The latest meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and Tree Planting highlighted the decline of productive forestry in England and the catastrophic consequences this could have for the future if serious efforts are not made to change course.

THE first All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and Tree Planting (APPG) of 2022 met in January to consider the question, ‘Post-COP26, what does the latest UK research tell us about how forestry can help fight damaging climate change?’. 

APPG chair Ben Lake MP opened the meeting with responses from government to questions asked before Christmas on the loss of productive forestry in England.

He said: “Government confirms that wood-producing forests in England are in decline, that their own policies are contributing to this, while failing to create new productive forests, impacting on our ability to produce more wood. This, at a time when it is needed to support the decarbonisation of construction and to increase homegrown supply as global prices soar and long-term demand for timber rises globally.” Offering his apologies, he then left for a debate in the chamber.

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Stuart Goodall, Confor’s chief executive, elaborated: “From 2040, leading up to our net-zero targets in 2050, the UK will have less wood than we do now. In England, the last decade has seen more productive woodland destroyed than planted: a net loss of over 30,000 ha (72,000 acres).”

He suggested the APPG write to ministers asking how they intend to reverse this net loss.

Host David Lee introduced Dr Andrew Cameron, senior lecturer at the Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen. Their discussion took the form of a Q&A and covered the reasons for writing Dr Cameron’s recently published paper, ‘Expanding productive forests creates cost-effective carbon sinks and reduces loss of natural forest by offsetting timber extraction’, the findings and thoughts on what comes next.

Q. “What were the reasons for writing this paper?”

A. “The negativity towards productive forests in the media and that the views of environmental groups and commentators are rarely challenged. Environmental and productive tree planting are presented as competing options. Both have a role in our landscapes.

“In discussions on expanding conservation forests and rewilding, there is no discussion of the potential wider consequences of pursuing this type of land use, especially when, as some suggest, it would replace productive forests.

Forestry Journal:

“There is no mention of where the more than 30 million tonnes of wood products used annually in the UK will come from, or the importance of productive forests as cost-effective carbon sinks, particularly in the context of COP26.”

Q. “What main points does your paper highlight?”

A. “Everything has consequences. Pursue a particular land-use policy. Think through the wider implications. Conservation forests and rewilding have advantages for biodiversity, but there is no expectation of timber production from these forests.

“Where will our wood come from? We import over 80 per cent of our timber. Wood products are seen as a sustainable resource. Yet these products are not linked with trees, grown and managed for decades to supply a quality raw material.

“What are the economic risks of depending on imports when global demand is expected to double by 2050 and global shortages are predicted? Productive forests sequester atmospheric carbon while producing an entirely renewable and sustainable material. Expansion of productive forests offsets timber production from the world’s remaining natural forests, already under extreme threat from exploitation. 

Q. “In the longer term, a rise in global timber demand will only intensify the pressure on global forests?”

A. “Exactly. The UK is in a weak position. Supply will likely become more restricted, and the cost of imports increase.”

David Lee invited Neil Parish MP, chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee, a farmer who believes trees should be treated as a crop, to ask: “Is government taking planting trees as a crop for wood production seriously?”

Stuart Goodall answered: “There is what is said and then there is what happens. Raising these issues, we are listened to with a sympathetic ear. The FC understands the benefits and the need for different types of planting. We show DEFRA we cannot solely focus on environmental outcomes, that we need to produce wood as a crop. That message is not supported at a ministerial level.” 

Q. “European countries are revising down timber production forecasts due to climate-induced damage [drought stress followed by insect attacks leading to large loss of forests]. Where will imports come from in the decades to come?”

A. “The UK imports a lot of wood from central Europe and Scandinavia. To increase drought resilience, countries (e.g. Germany) are planting more drought-tolerant species (North American Douglas fir). It will take decades to replace lost production while the trees mature. Less timber available for export means reduced supply and higher import prices.”

Q. “What drives the constant criticism of non-native species and commercial production?”

A. “‘Native species’ are defined as arriving during the last Ice Age. Our island status has resulted in limited tree flora. Supplementary species have been introduced since Roman times and into the 19th century. ‘Nativeness’ seems not to apply to food (plants and animals species), yet practically nothing we eat is truly ‘native’. 

“Arguments claiming that forests of non-native species are associated with poor biodiversity are misplaced. Research shows that planted forests of non-native timber trees are as biodiverse as planted forests of native species.”

Q. “The expansion of productive plantation forests is not keeping pace with global timber demand. How much do we need to plant to address this shortfall?”

A. “Three per cent of the global forest area comprises productive plantation forests, yet produces a third of the world’s industrial timber. Plantations are predicted to supply less than a quarter of global demand by 2050, resulting in more timber being sourced from natural or semi-natural forests. These forests produce low volumes, 1–3 m³ per ha of usable timber annually, meaning logging larger areas to create an economic output. 

Forestry Journal: Stuart GoodallStuart Goodall

“Annual volumes of industrial timber used are (estimated) at around 6 billion m³, requiring 2–6 billion ha of natural forest to be logged to achieve this. Global natural forest cover is only (estimated) 3.75 billion ha. Without production plantation forests, demand would likely exceed the world’s remaining forests and natural supply.

“Productive forests produce 10–20 million m³ of timber per ha per year (or more), meaning 0.3–0.6 billion ha of productive forests could meet the world’s entire industrial timber requirement. To meet future global roundwood demand, productive forests must expand well beyond current levels, allowing those remaining ‘natural forests’ to be devoted to wildlife protection and habitat conservation.”

Q. “You quote research from Eilidh Forster (Bangor University), who found that accounting for both forest growth and use of wood, productive forests supported up to 269 per cent more GHG mitigation potential than newly-planted broadleaf conservation forests. When we talk about the climate change potential of productive forests, why is wood’s carbon storage potential so little discussed?”

A. “It is, in part, down to education and getting across that the wood products we use every day, such as in packaging to avoid plastic waste, originate from forests that are carefully and sustainably managed to produce the type of wood we need.”

Q. “How would you describe those key benefits of wood in construction?”

A. “Carbon and energy are increasingly used to support greater uses of wood. For construction, sawn timber requires five times less energy to produce than cement; steel 24 times; bricks 35 times. Wood’s thermal insulation properties are five times better than concrete, 10 times better than brick and 350 times better than steel. Substituting timber for masonry or concrete reduces carbon emissions by 20 per cent or 60 per cent respectively.”

Q. “Your paper argues that new afforestation programmes should include a carbon capture index. How would this work?”

A. “There are already measures for how much carbon different forests types sequester. Financial aid – higher payments for planting programmes with the greatest carbon capture potential – should reflect this and help meet our COP26 obligations.”

Q. “Was it a good COP26 for understanding the value of productive forestry for climate change?”

A. “The world’s forests had a relatively high profile. Now governments must act to reverse global forest loss and greatly increase productive tree planting. 

Forestry Journal: Lord CarringtonLord Carrington

“The UK could make a significant impact in committing to a major expansion of productive forests, directly increasing our atmospheric carbon sequestration and reducing the carbon footprint associated with importing over long distances, a significant source of carbon itself. Indirectly, it would help reduce logging endangered natural and semi-natural forests.”

Q. “What is next for this debate?”

A. “Challenge the misleading claims made about productive forests, highlighting that forests are an effective way to sequester atmospheric carbon. Carbon capture technologies cost (an estimated minimum) £50 per tonne of CO2 sequestered. The costs of planting and managing productive forests are estimated at £3–4.50 per tonne of CO2 sequestered. Surely, the emphasis should be on productive tree planting.”

A number of questions from attendees were submitted in advance, which David Lee weaved into the discussion.

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Q. “Is the grant system supporting new large-scale productive planting?  If so, why isn’t it happening in the UK (aside from Scotland)?”

Stuart Goodall answered: “Forestry planting only happens when a grant is provided, but skewed towards environmental or social community benefits, it is difficult to make an economic case. In England, the economic benefits are not seen as worthwhile, but because of strong markets, people are interested in planting productive forests included. Negative perceptions around productive planting, particularly conifers, from people in key positions – in Natural England, for example – don’t express why this opposition to modern productive forests exists. Agencies must accept that planting trees must include an element of trade-off.”

Professor Ian Bateman from Exeter University asked: “Woodland managed for maximising timber production forces a trade-off with carbon storage. Thinning and harvesting reduce storage. How should decisions be made regarding this trade-off?”

Eilidh Forster answered: “My research compared the effect of managing vs. not. In production forests, timber is the main objective, with carbon storage a secondary benefit.  Management decisions must support timber production. Thinning and harvesting ensures the resilience of the forest and its health.”

John Healey (Bangor University) asked whether the word ‘native’ should be removed from the debate. Another participant wondered what measures might bring conversations between forestry and conservation camps closer together.

Stuart Goodall answered: “Confor attempts to build relationships with conservation and environmental NGOs with varied levels of success. With the Woodland Trust, we are updating the Forestry Accord (agreed in 1996) as a basis for future cooperation. Their focus is on native woodland protection. Do we keep terms ‘native’ and ‘non native’? It is important to focus on the benefits of a particular tree and to communicate that, putting forward the reasons for what we believe. We have good relations with WWF and Friends of the Earth because they care about what happens beyond these shores as well as at home, seeing the benefits of producing homegrown wood in that context.”

Lord Carrington said business decisions (why a farmer or landowner might not choose to plant trees) come down to money: “Anyone with a moderately good grade of land will not plant trees if they can do better by rewilding or putting up a solar farm. The information is not there as to how growing trees on farmland stacks up.”

Neil Parish asked: “What changes in the grant system would encourage more productive planting?”

Stuart Goodall responded: “Conceptually, Lord Carrington is right. Charitable organisations can deliver tree planting, but to see an increase in tree planting on a continual basis, it must economic for landowners: the grant drives the income. In England, to plant 7,500 ha per year by 2025 and increase it from there, we must embrace different types of forestry and a broader range of objectives, with the rural economy seen as important, which it is not within the UK government’s current policy.

Forestry Journal: From 2040, leading up to its net-zero targets in 2050, the UK is forecast to have less wood than it does now. From 2040, leading up to its net-zero targets in 2050, the UK is forecast to have less wood than it does now.

“We also need greater speed and predictability. Processing of some large tree-planting applications has taken so long that the rules have changed, with applicants told to abide by the new rules. Fundamentally, it is just not working.”

Providing an update on the impact of Storm Arwen, Stuart added: “There could be up to 2–3 million m³ of timber affected (significant amounts of Scots pine and larch), or 25 per cent of the UK’s annual volume harvested in recent years. We are working with owners to get it to market and with the harvesting and processing sector to find ways to adapt to the material coming online in north-east Scotland and north-east England and manage it into the supply chain. Indications for a strong market in 2022 will help bring that material out and then reinstate it for the future.”

Confor will liaise with Ben Lake’s office on sending letters to DEFRA over the loss of areas of productive forestry. David Lee thanked Dr Cameron for the explanation of his paper, Stuart Goodall for his answers and attendees for their contributions throughout the hour, concluding: “There is probably a conference or two in what we packed in today.”

An in-person meeting of APPGF&TP at the House of Commons is scheduled for April 26.
Dr Cameron’s paper can be found at
Eilidh Forster’s work can be found at