In this series of articles, we will be sharing exclusive coverage from all aspects of APF 2022. 

Confor’s communications manager reports on the forestry trade association’s busy seminar programme at APF 2022.

AS the sun came up on the morning of 22 September, APF exhibitors and staff were busy making final preparations to ensure the return of the UK forestry sector’s biggest event was a success.

Thursday saw a packed schedule for guests to enjoy in the Confor marquee. Settled right beside the south gate, many early birds were tempted inside by the promise of a breakfast, kindly sponsored by Tustins, and a lively discussion.

Naomi Matthiessen, director of the government’s Nature for Climate Tree Programme at DEFRA, spoke to the gathered crowd about the work ongoing in her team and the direction of the forestry sector in the context of the UK government’s plans.

“We’ve now built a really strong team within DEFRA, working very closely with our Forestry Commission colleagues and a range of other delivery partners,” she said.

“Just over 18 months ago, we published our England Trees Action Plan, which sets out the government’s long-term vision for trees and forestry in England, including the ambition to treble tree-planting rates in England by May 2024, covering not just woodland creation, but also woodland management, trees outside of woodlands, the role of trees and forestry in our economy, and the huge importance they hold for all of us as individuals.”

Naomi, while answering questions from the audience, acknowledged that forestry as a sector has received a lack of political attention, particularly in England. However, she said the new administration is a likely source of support.

“Our new secretary of state, Ranil Jayawardena, has put economic growth and water quality and scarcity as two of his top priorities. We also know the new government has reaffirmed its commitment to achieving net zero. Trees and forestry are really very relevant across all of those priorities.

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“The forestry sector has opportunity for growth, and it can support levelling up in less affluent areas and create a range of skilled jobs. Now is definitely the time to be making the case to government for the strategic importance of the industry.”

With new opportunities for tree planting becoming a running theme for the day, many returned to the Confor tent to hear a panel discussion on ‘Woodland, Hedgerows, Agroforestry and Trees’, chaired by Penny Oliver, head of future farming and transition at the FC.

She was joined by Ewan Calcott, the FC’s head of woodland regulation; Hugh Williams, associate director at John Clegg & Co; Jim O’Neill, agroforestry advisor for the FC; and Edd Colbert, an independent agroforestry advisor.

Queries came from audience members representing the worlds of both forestry and farming, covering gaps in knowledge about funding, planning, design, and product outcomes. There was one clear message: there is a lot of potential to be realised.

For foresters, agroforestry presents a new way in which to utilise their skills and expand their offering. Getting trees to work as part of a farm is a widely varied and purpose-driven undertaking. Edd had plenty of examples.

“I define agroforestry as any form of ecological integration of trees and farming elements,” he said. “Timber might be part of that system, but a good design in agroforestry always starts with the objectives. For a particular farmer, it might be that they want a long-term return, and so will be selecting a system that is well-adapted to timber production.

“Another farmer might be trying to reduce run-off from the land. Then they’ll be looking towards riparian buffers and not actually to an output at all. Others might be looking to diversify for shorter-term gains through a short-rotation coppice or fruit production.”

Hugh highlighted that the sheer diversity of the specialism could be a catalyst for a shift in thinking for foresters and their businesses.

“Just in terms of the professionalism side, I think agroforestry is also a huge opportunity for the classic forestry profession to really think differently about what they do.

“I think the profession has shown it can adapt and be very agile to pests and diseases, to different species, and with all knowledge of the soil and landscapes. We’re ideally suited, therefore, to promote agroforestry and certainly to sell its products.”

Ewan pointed out that one of the easiest ways to integrate trees on farms is for the benefit of livestock. But this is also one of the biggest disconnects for foresters used to trying to keep animals away from trees to avoid timber damage.

“From a policy perspective, we’ve had 30–40 years now of new woodlands being created and livestock being excluded. In the context of agroforestry, there is a historic relationship between using the woodland space and having animals grazing on that land.

“It has to be done sustainably and sensibly. It’s not a case of putting your animals in there for 12 months of the year. It’s got to be the right animals, at the right density, and at the right time.

“Just because we keep domesticated livestock out of woodland today as a matter of policy, doesn’t mean to say that we don’t have the largest deer population that we’ve ever had in those woodlands, doing exactly the same grazing as we would potentially see. Livestock are already in our woodlands, they’re just not domesticated.

“I very much want to get the message across that I see agroforestry as a way for farmers to keep farming – by using trees. Trees can help them do their day job, which is really what they want to carry on doing.

“If we can increase awareness of the business and environmental opportunities for the farming community, then all the better.”

Despite the soaring temperatures and sunshine outside, Neil Stoddart of Creel Consulting garnered a lot of interest for his talk on ‘Decarbonising Timber Transport’, presented by the Timber Transport Forum on Saturday.

Earlier this year, Creel Consulting produced a report on the decarbonisation of road haulage for the TTF, laying out how electric vehicle and biofuel adoption will impact timber transport in the decades to come.

Expanding on the immediate action that needs to be taken, he said: “We’ve had 120 years of developing the oil supply chain and we’ve got to change that over the next 15 years to net-zero fuels. 

Forestry Journal:  Ewan Calcott, Naomi Matthiessen and Stuart Goodall. Ewan Calcott, Naomi Matthiessen and Stuart Goodall. (Image: Confor)

“Whether we like it or not, we’ve got to accept there’s government targets on this. You’re not going to be able to walk into a Volvo showroom in 10 years’ time and pick a 750 hp with a 30-litre engine or get a Scania V8 at 770 hp. They won’t be for sale.

“We need to look at alternatives now. We can’t leave it too much longer.”

He touched on the expense associated with buying and running electric or hydro vehicles suitable for road haulage, acknowledging that, for the moment, diesel is still a much smaller investment. However, with new progress being made every day to commercialise low-carbon transport, the hope is that suitable vehicles will be available to meet demand in the near future, at a price point that makes economic sense.

READ MORE: APF 2022: Record number of visitors turn out for forestry show

An alternative for the immediate term is hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), a renewable and green diesel fuel similar to biodiesel. 10 vehicles running on HVO with an added additive system (Green D+ HVO) emit the same CO2e as a single diesel machine.

This is already approved for use by a steadily growing list of manufacturers, including Scania, Volvo and Renault, marking a shift in mindset that has to occur in logistics, infrastructure and timber transport as a whole for a difference to be made.

Finally, we welcomed the FC back to the Confor tent for Andy Hall, head of tree health in England, to deliver an overview of the pests and diseases that pose a threat to the UK’s woodlands.

Over 200 of the entries on the UK Plant Health Risk Register impact trees. This includes everything from oak processionary moth and Ips typographus to Phytophthora pluvialis and ash dieback.

Andy discussed the immense amount of work undertaken by the FC and Forest Research to identify and limit threats as they occur, as well as working with government to put funding and assistance in place to help landowners manage the issues that do occur.

“Why are we doing it?” he asked listeners. “Well, in 32 years there were only five incursions that established themselves as a problem. Then there were 20 in the 16 years after that. That is serious.

Forestry Journal: Neil Stoddart speaks on the subject of decarbonisation in timber haulage.Neil Stoddart speaks on the subject of decarbonisation in timber haulage. (Image: Confor)

“Despite all the efforts going in by the Plant Health Services and others, things are still getting in. That’s no surprise: sometimes it’s through trade, sometimes it’s through natural movement and pathways.”

Biosecurity and vigilance were emphasised as the best ways to help, on any scale. Report anything you come across, so pathways can be identified and specific action taken to mitigate risk.

A huge thanks is due to all of our presenters and panellists, who did a wonderful job keeping our guests engaged and encouraging new perspectives. It was fantastic to see such a buzz in the marquee and we hope to come back bigger and better in two years’ time.

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