David Symons, Managing Director of Euroforest Limited, welcomed guests and led the room in observing a minute’s silence for Martin Bishop, known to many from his time working with AJ Charltons and latterly with Confor Wales, who died in a flying accident earlier this year.

“These dinners are special occasions,” says David, “allowing our industry to celebrate successes and to moan about the lack of new planting, government support and the other worries we have. There has been movement on new planting. This year, we will achieve the target of 10,000 ha plus in Scotland.

“Tonight, we celebrate the many great achievements of [nearly] one hundred years of the Forestry Commission and there are many, especially their establishment of great forests across England, Wales and Scotland. Outside wartime, very few things measure up to the Forestry Commission’s (FC) planting of major forests. Planting Kielder Forest was a massive task and a superb achievement. Forestry and the Forestry Commission is woven into the society of the North Tyne. Hundreds of locals and imported labour, shepherds, coal miners, families from across the North East who moved to the newly constructed forest villages of Kielder, Stonehaugh, Byrness and Falstone, were employed and became foresters. Thriving communities all planting trees, building roads, maintaining crops and bringing the forests into production.

“My father, a civil engineer, worked with the FC on the 400 km network of roads within Kielder Forest. His six children all worked for the FC at some point. My brother still works for them. I spent nine years with them in Kielder and Grizedale before moving to the private sector.

“As MD of a UK company, harvesting and marketing in excess of 2.5 million cubic metres of timber per annum, who has grown up in the industry during the last thirty years, I can only thank the FC for the legacy they have created since 1919. Especially, but not exclusively, the spruce forests with their vast stores of timber that have allowed us to create a vibrant modern industry, which makes a huge contribution to the rural economy.

“The Forestry Commission was set up to create a strategic reserve of timber for the nation in the event of war. Fortunately, no war. Now, it is a great national asset offering more than a simple store of timber. The developments are many: carbon sequestration; a national playground with access for all; increased biodiversity allowing an ever increasing number of species to flourish; and, most important for many in this room, a long-term supply of the planet’s number one renewable global building material, timber.

“All are great achievements and major contributions to our national life. In many ways, it is easy to say ‘mission accomplished’, particularly when forests, like Kielder, have been remodeling their productive phase to better accommodate the many benefits that we seek to gain from forests today. However, I believe this will be a false prospectus. Whilst the FC faces a period of change over the coming years, they still have a major role to play in the future of our forests and our industry. Thank you to the Forestry Commission for creating such a marvellous national asset. On behalf of Euroforest Limited, enjoy your evening.”

Tim Leavers, Euroforest’s manager for business development and support said grace, after which guests shared in a fine ‘forest’ feast, including loin of venison adorned with poached berries.

Following coffee, an ebullient Sir Harry Studholme, Chair of the Forestry Commission, offered his thanks to Euroforest (especially Tim Leavers and Louise Jones who organised the event) and to FC staff. Sir Harry declared, “Feasting is a traditional way to celebrate, and we are here to celebrate forestry, not only for the ninety-nine years since a visionary government passed the 1919 Forestry Act, but for a great future ahead.”

He unashamedly charted timber’s contribution to man’s past. “Feasting and man’s connection to wood stretches back not a hundred years, but (maybe) 100,000 years. Wood lies at the heart of man’s journey to civilisation, in inventing fire, and the first known tools of man. What would stone axes, spears and arrowheads have been without wooden shafts or bows? Moving from stone to copper, bronze and iron, the discovery of charcoal allowed man to smelt and shape. Much of what we made were tools to work in wood. Wood is biodegradable. Archaeologists and museums focus on arrowheads and axes, the only witnesses to long forgotten wood components.

“Ancient foresters and timber processors must have feasted around fires, eating wood-cooked food off wooden trenchers, while sitting on logs, or wooden benches and chairs around wooden tables. They would have enjoyed a good dinner and the company of friends, fellow foresters and workers in wood.

“Wood and the forests that supply it are not just history, they are critical for our future. If someone proposed a technology, cheap packets of tiny capsules to plant in the ground, that grow into vast carbon-absorbing structures that suck up water, provide homes for complex ecosystems, while being recognised as beautiful and made of material useful in multiple ways, no-one would believe them. Yet, we work with this magic every day.

“Wood remains a good and flexible material. New techniques of laminating, chemical and heat treatments give more options to a material that already has thermal properties, great strength-to-weight ratios and versatility. New uses and technologies emerge all the time.

“Humans take the obvious for granted, craving what we cannot have, not what we have. We must not forget what foresters and timber processors have achieved in the last one hundred years: a modern and substantial timber processing industry. Great Britain’s forest area has doubled, both productive forestry and native woodlands. Habitat for a range of species continues to increase (although not all enjoy the consequence of some: squirrels, deer, wild boar, potential insects or tree-killing fungi). Landowners, forestry companies and other bodies like the Woodland Trust should also be proud of their achievements. The public has greater access to woodland than ever before. The Public Forest Estate welcomes 226 million visitors a year.

“However, there are forests to be managed and planted. We must learn how to handle disease and a changing environment. We need to bring a new generation into the forest and to build a safer industry. We need to live in the present and look to the future.”

Sir Harry proposed a toast. “To what we have achieved together over the past 100,000 years, and especially the last one hundred years. To forestry!”

New Tree Champion Sir William Worsley, was the evening’s second speaker. His appointment in June 2018 is the fulfilment of a commitment made by government in their 25-Year Environment Plan. Owner of Hovingham Estate, Sir William runs his own forestry business. A past President of the CLA, he is the current Chairman of The National Forest.

Thanking the Forestry Commission for all they have achieved over the last one hundred years, a measured Sir William said, “I am delighted to be the government’s Tree Champion. As important to me as they are to local communities, trees and woods transform our landscapes, improve our health and wellbeing and help grow the economy. An anticipated outcome of my work will be the enhanced cooperation and ‘partnership working’ between the Tree Champion, Defra, Forestry Commission, Natural England and key woodland and forestry stakeholders.”

The role of Tree Champion is to facilitate government’s aims and objectives for ‘improving the environment for future generations’, focussing on trees and the benefits they bring. Sir William outlined his remit, “I will be focussing on increased woodland creation, the future thinking of environmental land management outside the EU, protecting ancient woodland more strongly, supporting the introduction of a new duty for local councils to consult before felling street trees, working with Defra’s Chief Plant Health Officer to improve biosecurity and tree health across England and raising awareness of the impact that pest and disease has on the environment and economy.”

“We want cleaner air and water, richer habitats and an environment-first approach to agriculture and land-use. The 25-Year Plan sets out policies, actions and long-term goals on delivering sustainable land-use, protecting and enhancing our beautiful landscapes, recognising the important contribution that well-managed forests and woodlands make to the environment.

“Government has pledged £5.7 million to kick-start development of the Northern Forest, developing new forestry and woodland sites across 120 miles, from Liverpool to Hull. With the Woodland Trust and Community Forests, we are identifying sites where government-funded trees will be planted shortly.

“Forest and woodland creation offers economic, social and environmental benefits, landscape-scale wildlife habitats, increased biodiversity, reduced flood risk, improved soil and water quality, personal enjoyment of nature and timber. We know these benefits and the Natural Capital Committee tells us how cost-effective tree planting is. The commitment to plant 11 million trees during this Parliament remains, with an additional one million trees in urban areas. We stand by the aspiration to achieve 12% woodland cover by 2060. Last week, Minister Coffey announced easier access for landowners applying for grants for creating new woodland. Applicants can now apply for the latest round of the Countryside Stewardship Woodland Grant Scheme year round. These ambitions need your support – with private investment and you, the sector, promoting the take-up of our grants.”

Addressing the Clean Growth Strategy he said, ”Headline commitments are ambitious, 130,000 ha of new forestry and woodland by 2032, planting about 10,000 ha a year. Large-scale afforestation, which is economically beneficial and attractive to commercial investors, is achievable in a sustainable manner by planting to UK Forestry Standards.”

Using domestically grown wood in domestic construction projects contributes to carbon reduction targets. “To stimulate demand, Defra has worked with BEIS (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) and DCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s) to develop markets for British forestry and timber processing in construction and infrastructure projects.” They will work with Confor, Grown in Britain and the construction sector addressing new build and refurbishment projects. “Using domestic timber in construction could create 4,000 jobs and add £0.2 billion GVA to the economy.”

Over the summer, government updated the National Planning Policy Framework to increase the protection of ancient woodlands. “To protect trees from pest and disease threats, biosecurity must factor in planting decisions as well as ensuring protection for our existing tree resource. Building tree resilience was set out in government’s Tree Health Resilience Strategy (May, 2018).”

Plant health requires a collaborative approach, in raising awareness of issues and to collectively deliver solutions. “‘Action Oak’ sees government, charities and landowners working together, similar is needed for ash dieback.” FC updated guidance on managing ash in woodland settings has just been published. “Currently, 58% of woods and forests are in active management. This figure must increase. Active management helps monitor and protect against disease.

“Leaving the EU allows for a fundamental reform of what we have, to deliver an improved natural environment. Woodland creation and management plays a crucial role. By developing more effective incentives, woodland creation can be a more attractive proposition.”

“The Forestry Commission’s centenary coincides with the launch of Forestry England in April 2019 and the full devolution of forestry to Scotland. The closer working of Defra and FC England will benefit the UK forestry industry and Forest Research will continue to underpin much of what we do.”

He concluded, “Looking to the next one hundred years, how will our organisations tackle climate change resilience and plant health? What will forestry look like? We all want a bright future, with a vibrant, strong, safe, modern and well-trained industry.

“My role is spread across the whole sector. I look forward to meeting you over the next year to help take forward some of these objectives. Thank you for inviting me here this evening and I look forward to hearing positive outcomes from the APF.”