Reporting from the Forestry Conference 2022.

OCTOBER’S well-attended one-day Forestry Conference 2022: ‘Building Resilience Together’, held at Newbury Racecourse, was a collaboration between the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) South East, the Forestry Commission (FC) and Grown in Britain (GiB), supported by Pryor and Rickett Silviculture and Wessex Woodland Management.

Session host GiB chief executive Dougal Driver welcomed keynote speaker the Rt Hon Lord Benyon. As Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Rural Affairs, access to nature and biosecurity), he tackles issues of trees and forests both domestically and internationally. As a forester, he acknowledged that although trees offer solutions, they face enormous problems.

READ MORE: Sawmills, felling and forestry recruitment dominate SFTT meeting

He said: “Building resilience in the forestry sector is vital. Woodlands can contribute to economic growth, help reach net-zero ambitions (2050) and provide habitat to help reverse the crisis of species decline. 

“Land managers are crucial to achieving a land-use balance that works commercially, for individual farmers, business and estates, for local businesses and communities, and the other services they provide. We need to explain how cutting down a tree can regenerate woodlands to ensure they are multi-aged to benefit future generations.

“Woodlands contribute £3.3 billion annually to the economy, providing 32,000 jobs, many in rural communities. There is potential for sector growth, timber prices doubling in the last five years. However, only 19 per cent of timber used in the UK is home-grown. 81 per cent of timber and wood products are imported. We need domestically grown timber for construction, for fuel and to make products for export globally.”

At Forest Research’s new Holt Laboratory, Lord Benyon saw a quarantined bug imported into the UK in firewood from Belarus. “Why are we importing firewood, boosting another economy and not our own at this particular time?

“Trees (planted in well-managed woodlands) support agricultural food production. This is not at the expense of food production. Trees grow in less productive soils, supporting farm businesses in becoming more economically and ecologically resilient: the right tree in the right place.” 

There are an estimated 368 million woodland visits each year. Last year Forestry England recording their highest visitor numbers. He said: “Tap into the demand for UK tourism to stimulate growth in rural communities.

“UK woodlands (and soils) store 3,781 million tonnes of CO2, sequestering (approximately) 20.5 million tonnes of CO2 each year. Net zero presents sector opportunities. 

“To grow forestry and wood-processing sectors, we propose a statutory woodland target, increasing England’s canopy cover from 14.5 per cent to 17.5 per cent by 2050. DEFRA’s Nature for Climate Fund (£675 m) supports tripling woodland creation by the end of this parliament.”

Funding for UKFS-compliant woodlands is through the English Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO), aiming to plant 10,000 ha of trees over its lifetime. “Do not only plant a narrow group of native species. Consider the risks and embrace diversity in our natural landscape.”

2021’s England Trees Action Plan (ETAP) sets out proposals supporting the forestry economy. Government support includes: the Timber in Construction Innovation Fund; the Seed Sourcing Grant (£1.2 m for nurseries to enhance the quality and genetic diversity of seed stocks); the Tree Productivity Innovation Fund and Tree Production Capital Grants; and the Development Woodland Officer scheme. Woodland Creation Accelerator Fund winners will be announced shortly.

 “Since 2014, £100 m has been invested in plant health research. Ash dieback is predicted to kill 120 m trees (costing £15 m over 100 years).” A new GB Plant Biosecurity Strategy will be published later this year. 

Responding to new woodland-establishment challenges, a consultation on deer management in England was held in the summer. “I want to be the minister who started us on the path to the annihilation of the grey squirrel, a nightmare for biodiversity, future landscapes and all that we value. Let’s get everyone together to solve this problem. Targets will only be achieved by working together across the sector.”

He concluded: “It is an interesting time to be in politics. I dream of a dull time to be in politics after the last few months. However, this sector should feel valued and needed as never before.” 



Forestry Journal: Markets/Future Farming’ is a discussion between Graham Clark, CLA senior land-use policy advisor, Deborah Wells, deputy director policy design (Future Farming and Countryside Programme) and Naomi Matthiessen, DEFRA Nature for Climate Tree Fund director.Markets/Future Farming’ is a discussion between Graham Clark, CLA senior land-use policy advisor, Deborah Wells, deputy director policy design (Future Farming and Countryside Programme) and Naomi Matthiessen, DEFRA Nature for Climate Tree Fund director. (Image: FJ)

There followed a discussion between Graham Clark, CLA senior land-use policy advisor, Deborah Wells, deputy director policy design (Future Farming and Countryside Programme) and Naomi Matthiessen, DEFRA Nature for Climate Fund Tree Programme director.

The Future Farming and Countryside Programme is responsible for agricultural transition and ELM for long-term funding. ELM comprises three schemes: Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI), Local Nature Recovery (LNR) and Landscape Recovery (LR).

The (current) Nature for Climate Fund Tree Programme, of which EWCO is one element, is short-term funding. “The Secretary of State recently said that under ELM, no schemes are being scrapped,” said Deborah Wells. Naomi Matthiessen added: “EWCO’s design and creation payments will largely be mirrored in ELM. Those going into EWCO now will find the transition easy.”

Q. GC: “Is LNR the main scheme a landowner will access for woodland creation?”
A. DW: “The SFI will contain a Forestry Standard (2024) and include payments for woodland creation, maintenance, countryside stewardship, measures for technical help and tree health. Details of SFI and LNR offers will be published later in the year. EWCO is the model going into LNR (2025).”
Q. GC: “A landowner creating woodlands on their land would approach the LNR. To do more, they would approach Landscape Recovery. There are few details about Landscape Recovery. How do we choose?”
A. DW: “For Landscape Recovery, a long-term agreement for larger areas. 22 pilot projects are developing detailed plans; most contain farming, food production and some elements of woodland creation.  We will learn from these schemes.”
Q. GC: “Inflation has increased the costs of tree stock and more. Will DEFRA look at the standard costs underpinning EWCO rates?”
A. DW: “We are committed to reviewing the payments rates regularly.”
Q. GC: “Will LNR and LR have incentives for managing existing woodlands?”
A. DW: “There will be payments for woodland maintenance. The Tree Health Pilot Scheme will roll into LNR. Reaching targets will be incentivised in different ways, including with green and blended finance.”
Q. GC: “Tree-planting targets are funded by the Nature for Climate Fund, a different fund to the ELM budget. Will the ELM budget have enough money to pay for these new woodlands and planting targets?”
A. NM: “The Nature for Climate Fund runs until the end of this parliament. The Future Farming and Countryside Programme budget will be agreed in the next spending round cycle. I cannot give guarantees about future government spending. The Green Finance Strategy will outline an ‘ecosystem market framework’, setting out how to stack public and private finance. Both EWCO and ELMS encourage stacking. Not everything currently funded through Nature for Climate will roll into ELM (Woodland Creation Accelerator).”

Jane Hull, area director for FC South East and London, introduced the theme of ‘markets’ for timber and ecosystem services.

Vastern Timber manufactures ‘Brimstone’, thermally modified timber made from quantities of well-grown white hardwoods for use in construction. Director Tom Barnes called for a national timber strategy within the next 10 years, saying: “Planting and managing more woodlands for the purpose of harvesting timber and wood products to get trees into the construction market and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.

“Building materials account for 11 per cent of emissions. The one page in ETAP encouraging the use of low-carbon materials in construction does not stipulate that this wood should be home-grown. Growing construction-grade timber is a choice. Good silviculture is not an afterthought.”

In 2021/2022, England planted 2,255 ha. “UK planting targets (30,000 ha/year) or achieving 17.5 per cent canopy cover in England by 2050 is a fantasy. Reporting incremental increases in woodland area creates a false sense of achievement.” Given the increasing threats, he suggested the UK is actually experiencing deforestation. Predicted timber supplies may peak earlier than the ‘next 30 years’.

A national timber strategy could address and answer questions of future domestic timber supply. “Industry supports biodiversity and carbon capture, but not at the expense of timber production. Productivity can enhance carbon capture, increase biodiversity value, achieve the planting targets and reduce emissions in construction. Timber income is reliable in the long term, whereas subsidies can be scrapped before seeing the light of day. 

Forestry Journal: Liz Nicholson is director of the Forest Canopy Foundation (FCF), a partnership of forestry companies ‘delivering valuable woodland nature-based solutions and natural capital benefits’.Liz Nicholson is director of the Forest Canopy Foundation (FCF), a partnership of forestry companies ‘delivering valuable woodland nature-based solutions and natural capital benefits’. (Image: FJ)

“The new policies sound positive and landscape-scale is the right approach. The industry is willing to collaborate with other stakeholders (including NGOs) to produce a collaborative industry-led (Confor) green-growth-orientated strategy that can outlast political cycles. We await government on support for the expansion of productive conifer alongside broadleaf woods in England. Continuing with the current policy will reduce timber production. If we lose the processing sector, it will not come back.” 

Liz Nicholson is director of the Forest Canopy Foundation (FCF), a partnership of forestry companies ‘delivering valuable woodland nature-based solutions and natural capital benefits’. She said: “It cannot only be about carbon.”

The ‘opportunity value’ of new woodlands, planted and managed over 30 years, could be worth up to £84,000 (over 30 years), when pricing additional benefits: water infiltration rates near woodlands; biodiversity net gain (BNG – where a unit’s estimated worth is £20,000); improved air quality; cleaner water and reduced flooding; community enhancement; employee engagement; health and wellbeing.

“We don’t yet have a developed market to sell carbon or BNG at the true rates paid for planting or bringing woodlands into management.”

Using a ‘canopy carbon’ woodland-creation metric (developed by GiB) to score natural capital benefits helped secure corporate investor carbon funding (in addition to EWCO) for the 120-ha woodland-creation project on the Blenheim Estate. The benefits are currently being evidenced (baseline measurements) against which future gains (outputs) can be measured and turned into saleable products.

A ‘woodland management’ metric is under development. Baseline measurements will include timber outputs and timber end use.

“The Woodland Carbon Code paying £20/tonne does not work in lowland England, where production costs are higher and yields (with broader benefits) are lower. We need to stack BNG with carbon and sell BNG on EWCO-funded woodlands. We need to develop private markets and more codes: hedgerows, agroforestry and soil carbon codes.”

A DEFRA-funded PIES (protect, improve, expand, sustain) project offers standardised advice to English landowners. Anyone interested in creating new (or managing existing) woodlands can apply. The British Standards Institute is developing ‘core carbon principles’ (CCPs), an assessment framework to promote investor confidence in the UK market.



Forestry Journal:  Graham Taylor, MD of Pryor and Rickett Silviculture. Graham Taylor, MD of Pryor and Rickett Silviculture. (Image: FJ)

In the afternoon, CLA regional director Tim Bamford invited Graham Taylor, MD of Pryor and Rickett Silviculture, to deliver a talk on ‘grey squirrel damage, its economic effects and future control options’.

In 2002, Taylor helped set up the European Squirrel Initiative (ESI). He said: “To have susceptible teenage stands damaged overnight is incredibly frustrating.”

Squirrel damage affects many species in all types of locations. “The cost of planting broadleaf in England at 1,600 stems/ha is £7,200 (up to £10,000 with weeding and tree guards). If squirrels are unmanaged, the best a crop of oak (YC 6, as biomass or firewood) will achieve 150 years later is £9,520/ha. Without squirrels, the French will receive £84,000 for theirs. This cost of failure is £74,480.”

When applied (theoretically, with some guesswork) across England’s National Forest Inventory data (broadleaf up to 60 years, some conifer up to 40 years), “the cumulative opportunity cost (timber income lost) to the forestry economy is approaching £4 billion, or an average annual loss of approx £65 m.” He put in rising timber import costs (from 2080, annualised over 60 years) at £389 million per annum.

Standard control options include shooting, trapping, immuno-contraception and re-introducing the pine martin.

The ESI is working with the Roslin Institute (Dolly the Sheep) on developing DIGB (direct inheritance of gender bias), “a gene drive that can influence the gender produced over multiple generations, influencing a population crash”. It is likely to take up to 10 years before DIGB reaches trial stages.

A presentation on ‘deer management on the Cranborne Estate’ was delivered by head forester at Gascoyne Cecil Estates, Richard Deffee.

DEFRA estimates deer population numbers at two million, causing an estimated £1 m loss to landowners each year.

Cranborne’s ASNW coppice and native broadleaf woodlands were replaced with conifer in the early 1960s.  Becoming head forester in 2007, Deffee was advised to turn even-aged plantations into continuous-cover forestry (multi-aged trees, multiple species, natural regeneration sustaining the forest type).

Forestry Journal: Richard Deffee, head forester at Gascoyne Cecil Estates.Richard Deffee, head forester at Gascoyne Cecil Estates. (Image: FJ)

“The barrier to success was high (roe) deer populations eating everything 1.5 metres above the ground,” he said. “When young trees can’t grow, the ecosystem breaks down. Culling maintains populations at a sustainable level.”

In 2009, the Deer Initiative recommended increased stalking (female control emphasised), establishing landscape-scale cooperation with neighbouring estates, planting in standard fencing and cutting coppice and plantation understorey (creating glades).

Cutting the understorey created more food and high cull numbers, which then dropped, plateaued and grew again. In 2018, a new stalking team, paid per head (emphasis on population control), dramatically reduced numbers and, pre-COVID, venison sales helped pay for the cull.

With reduced browsing, conifer woods show Douglas fir (birch nurse) regeneration. Hazel coppice allows broadleaf woods to develop into high forest with naturally regenerating oak. The woods are unfenced and the only cost is deer control. Fallow deer are making up more of the cull and muntjac are beginning to appear. 

“One person doing it creates a vacuum,” said Deffee. “With a collaborative response at landscape scale, it gets easier and cheaper.”

Dr Nicola Spence, DEFRA’s chief plant health officer, presented ‘Responding to an increasing threat: protecting our trees from pests and diseases’.

The annual value of UK plant health (maintaining healthy crops and forestry) is estimated at £9 billion. “The estimated asset value of our trees is £175 billion. 

“We have low levels of tree cover and rely on a limited number of species. Five broadleaf species make up 77 per cent of all stock. Six conifer species make up 89 per cent of our stock and four are under threat from current outbreaks.”  

In the last 20 years, 21 threats have arrived. Eradicating the Asian longhorn beetle cost £2 m. From 2010 to 2017, slowing the spread and protecting trees from Phytophthora ramorum cost £14 m in outbreak management and £90 m of lost economic value and ecosystem services from felling diseased trees.

Forestry Journal: Dr Nicola Spence, chief plant health officer, DEFRA.Dr Nicola Spence, chief plant health officer, DEFRA. (Image: FJ)

DEFRA wants fewer pest incursions, fewer outbreaks, more effective containment or eradication and to reduce costs to government, industry and trade.

The Tree Health Resilience Strategy (2018) has three strands:

1. Reduce risk (and identify risk pathways): The UK Plant Health Risk Register contains 1,400 risks. 30 per cent are forestry pests, including Xylella fastidiosa, emerald ash borer and plane wilt.  A ‘border target operating model’ will specify border controls for EU imports (approximately 200 risks have already been intercepted coming in from Europe).

2. Respond and recover from adverse events: The FC surveys the UK canopy for priority pests (flights/satellites) and a London-centric OPM surveillance and control programme continues (£1.2 m). “Spruce bark beetle outbreaks (Kent/Sussex) are trapped and breeding populations eradicated. Grants can help landowners proactively remove spruce in vulnerable areas. Phytophthora pluvialis, found in the west, does not appear to be spreading.”

3. Adapt to mitigate future threats: “Where threats (airborne pathogens or pests coming in ‘on the wing’) cannot be intercepted or contained, we must adapt,” including planting more trees grown from quality and diverse seed stock and building capacity in science, education, innovation and citizen science. “A new research strategy will set out top threats and challenges.”

A new tree health scheme comes out in 2024.



Forestry Journal:  In the final session, FC Chief Executive Richard Stanford and CLA President Mark Tufnell in conversation with GiB Chief Executive Dougal Driver. In the final session, FC Chief Executive Richard Stanford and CLA President Mark Tufnell in conversation with GiB Chief Executive Dougal Driver. (Image: FJ)

The final session saw Dougal Driver in conversation with FC chief executive Richard Stanford and CLA president Mark Tufnell.

DD: “Everyone wants to do the right thing, but the process is sticky.”
RS: “EWCO is a new grant. While not yet quite right, it is generous. Parts have been simplified, other areas require legislation for land-use change. Woodlands are the most regulated form of land use (aside for buildings), yet Scotland trebled its planting targets because timber produces GDP for Scotland and it had a vocal minister championing forestry.”

DD: “Mark, are you buoyed by that answer?”
MT: “Schemes, regimes and governments come and go. DEFRA enacts policy. We have to satisfy government and taxpayers that the money is spent properly. If someone offers £100,000 for filling out a 16-page form, it will be filled out. For £1,000, perhaps not. The issue is the uncertainty surrounding the opportunity.”

DD: “On risk, might you de-risk regulation and consider ‘earned recognition’, a shorter form for people with a track record of doing the right thing?”
RS: “The National Audit Office looks to reduce any risk to zero. They don’t think DEFRA is taking enough risk.”

DD: “Mark, is there a messaging issue at the top?”
MT: “There is for landowners wanting to plant trees. EWCO is a good start, incentivising planting. We heard earlier of nascent private finance coming in, carbon and BNG. While a mystery at the moment, BNG will be here soon and credits must come from somewhere. We are onto DEFRA Matrix 4 and look forward to hearing more about this new ‘green finance’ paper.”

DD: “We heard earlier of a national timber strategy. Others say it is ‘all about food’.”
MT: “It is not a binary choice. Planting up farm corners keeps both parties happy.”
RS: “Food security and biodiversity targets are important, but no-one talks about timber security. If the answer to sequestering carbon is to use wood for construction, where are the logs, timber products and houses of tomorrow coming from? The FC produces a lot of timber. We also have (probably) the best SSSis in England in land-management terms. If we have scale, we can do both. As Tom Barnes says, we need to speak collectively with a single voice and get that message out there.”  

DD: “Are we all in this together?”
RS: “Yes. We will not make government targets on our own.”