The All Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and Tree Planting recently met, with the Forestry Minister among the MPs pledging to support the forestry industry. 

THE first meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and Tree Planting (AP-PGF&TP) in 2023 coincided with the UN International Day of Forests, and was held at the Houses of Parliament, in the Churchill Room.

To mark the day, Confor created a Pledge Board, with which forestry industry attendees, MPs, members of Defra’s forestry team and members of the House of Lords keen to show their support posed for pictures.

Host David Lee opened the session. APPGF&TP chair Ben Lake MP welcomed us.

READ MORE: Q&A: England's forestry minister grilled on future timber

“The theme for today is ‘Think Global, Act Local’. What can forestry, tree planting and timber use in the UK do to support our economy, environment and society, while considering our broader global responsibility?

“Forestry, tree planting and the primary and secondary wood processing sectors support more than 90,000 jobs across the UK. Forests are crucial for our net-zero ambitions, for sequestering carbon, for providing timber products and for society’s improved physical and mental wellbeing, as highlighted by the ‘Healthy Forests for Healthy People’ theme of this International Day of Forests.

Forestry Journal: Tom Barnes, right, with attendees.Tom Barnes, right, with attendees. (Image: FJ)

“The UK still imports 81 per cent of the timber used to make the wood products we all consume. Planting more trees to increase future timber supply is important for domestic users, but also globally. The demand for timber is growing. More is used in construction as we move away from overreliance on concrete, steel and block. If concrete was a country, it would be the world’s third largest emitter of GHG (behind China and the USA).

“Using more wood means growing and planting trees of all kinds, including large productive forests, grown to high standards, reducing imports from countries with less rigorous standards, reducing the knock-on effects on fragile forests overseas.

“The point of today’s discussion is a collaborative approach towards a ‘Timber Sector Deal’ and a ‘National Wood Strategy for England’ to be published very soon.”

In Session 1, Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison MP spoke on ‘A domestic partnership with international impact: a new relationship between Government and the forest-based industries’.

“It is ‘treemendous’ to be the Minister responsible for trees, forestry and timber. For all government and society’s challenges, there is a solution that involves a tree, for cooling or purifying the air, for water, for carbon sequestration, for sustainability, for biodiversity, for timber used in furniture and in construction.” She recently visited Egger at Guy Opperman’s invitation.

Forestry Journal: Friends of the Earth’s Paul de Zylva.Friends of the Earth’s Paul de Zylva. (Image: FJ)

“The Environmental Improvement Plan sets out ten goals – legal targets and moral obligations – including increasing tree canopy cover to 16.5 per cent by 2050. An area the size of Cheshire, (approximately) 400 million trees or 250,000 hectares will need planting to achieve that target. Squirrel and deer need to be managed.

“To reach 16.5 per cent tree cover, we need an increased workforce in the forestry and timber sectors. To create the market, we need to create the need. We are working with Department for Levelling Up, Homes and Communities colleagues, to help them realise the benefits of timber in construction and panelling, with modern methods of construction, speedier and more sustainable builds storing embedded carbon.”

The Minister once worked at Sellafield (a multi-function nuclear site), which employs 27,000 workers in her area. “To improve the perception of nuclear, helping people appreciate that net zero means nuclear, we worked with (the then named) BEIS on the ‘Nuclear Sector Deal,’ making sure that the outputs were supported by government and industry.”

Forestry Journal: Baroness Young.Baroness Young. (Image: FJ)

She would like the same for the forestry sector. She would also like to take a chainsaw to the time it takes to get permission to plant a tree and to learn from the Swedish companies using timber systems to construct strong and sustainable homes.

“Government is spending money. We have the £1.5 million Innovation Fund. We are helping you to plant trees, the nursery industry sector to grow the saplings, creating standards for apprenticeships (and other qualifications) and working with other government departments to create markets for the trees you are growing.”

David Lee asked: “Are you keen to develop a Timber Sector Deal and will you ask Defra officials to talk with Friends of the Earth and Confor around that?”

“Yes I am,” replied Ms Harrison. “I am sure it was my idea. I would like to facilitate that meeting.”

In Session 2, ‘Towards a Timber Sector Deal,’ Paul de Zylva of Friends of the Earth (FoE) said: “I think there is a lot we agree on. A Timber Sector Deal can be co-created, using good evidence and statistics to get in a room and discuss it.

“Trees, woodland cover and forestry are needed for many reasons, also because of our global footprint. The ‘Biodiversity’ and ‘Climate’ COPs are opportunities for the UK to consider its global role and how this meshes at home.

Forestry Journal: Olly Hughes (Gresham House) and Guy Opperman MP.Olly Hughes (Gresham House) and Guy Opperman MP. (Image: FJ)

“How do we get the farming sector on board? Improve their sense that forestry or commercial planting, dare I say it – hedging and short-rotation coppice – are worth investing in and that they will not lose out.”

Around for 50 years, ‘Think globally, act locally’ is an old FoE slogan. “In the 1970s, our work on trees centred on the tropical timber trade (endangered species and tribal indigenous rights), not so different from the rights we speak of in this country, where we have advocated for doubling tree cover.”

Helpfully, FoE has created two maps for local authorities. Having made climate declarations, they are wondering what to do next. One (freely available) identifies areas for purposefully increasing forestry, woodland and tree cover. The second identifies communities at socioeconomic disadvantage, areas without tree cover for cooling, flood protection and more.

To attract sector investment, de Zylva suggests doing things ‘properly’. “Government can produce a policy, but stimulate the market in the right way and we can begin to reduce Russian imports, secondary-use Chinese imports and wood pellets for burning from the USA.”

A Timber Sector Deal was FoE’s idea, bringing participants together and identifying the issues and standards to be addressed. “We want National Parks to be better for biodiversity, but to suddenly switch wholesale and lose that productive capacity [is] bonkers.”

Confor’s Stuart Goodall said: “The UN international Day of Forests is a chance to reflect on how actions taken here can help with our international responsibility. An NGO, the forestry industry and farming are represented here today. Together we can do something really positive.

“Doing anything for climate change is always presented as a sacrifice to achieve objectives. Producing more of the wood we consume in the UK is a positive story that NGOs, environmental organisations, land managers, industry and political parties can get behind.”

He credits FoE for its work abroad on biodiversity and human rights. “Forestry touches many areas and by taking responsibility at home, delivering more planting to achieve net zero, we [inadvertently] impact on those wider agendas as well.”

Forestry has made mistakes in the past, but this is no longer the case. “By harnessing [UKFS] standards, planting mixed, multipurpose forests with proper safeguards in place, that fulfil a range of criteria.” Gresham House’s Forest Charter and evidence that planting for water quality is seeing a wide range of flora and fauna, including rare species, coming back in those forests, is an evidence base needed to reinforce this point. “We are gathering evidence to demonstrate and explain and prove what we are saying.”

Representing the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, Baroness Young said: “I am very keen on a Timber Sector Deal, collaborating to increase timber production while climate, wildlife and farming communities benefit. Look at other sector experiences (nuclear, aviation, aerospace) to see how best to benefit.”

Baroness Young highlighted several issues:

  • “It is not about conifer vs. natives, productive vs. non-productive. The England tree-cover target is less than the target consulted on. We need more not less, especially with the time horizons around carbon.”
  • Land pressures and inappropriate uses. “The Cambridge University Sustainability Unit has identified that in order to fulfil all land uses articulated in the next 50 years, England needs a third more land. For multi-functional land use, we must resolve the conflicts around inappropriate uses.”
  • Datasets. “The many datasets must be merged in a way that is usable by ordinary people at ordinary levels.” 
  • Provide certainty. “Give certainty on the decisions affecting how farmers use their land (farming being the largest use of land). They struggle with the [economic] uncertainty surrounding emergent farming policy. ELMS is becoming a bit clearer, but there is a black hole around the carbon credit and biodiversity credit markets.” 
  • Promote agroforestry. “Get farmers comfortable with planting and managing trees at a small scale before asking them to take on more to achieve targets.”
  • DEFRA and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero have been modelling agroecological land-use scenarios, including maximising afforestation integrated into the farm landscape. She hopes results will be released soon.

Tom Barnes, MD of Vastern Timber, has been working with Confor’s Andy Leitch on the ‘National Wood Strategy for England’. Updating the APPG, Barnes said: “We are very close to a rough first draft. The final Strategy will be published at the end of April.”

Forestry Journal: Stuart Goodall of Confor.Stuart Goodall of Confor. (Image: FJ)

Many themes have arisen during their many consultations, including: positive messaging heard from DEFRA and government is not the reality on the ground (inconsistency); carbon conditionality; ‘no thin, no fell’ policies; PAWS (statutory); National Parks; the many land designations; wading birds; a general broadleaf bias; restocking limitations; permanence (farmers); offers to farmers are not attractive; the Defra Metric 3.1 tool used to measure biodiversity net gain works against productive forestry by not accounting for the long-term accumulation of biodiversity; uncertainty in England around permissions and money; that trees outside woodlands are included in government’s 16.5 per cent planting target (reducing woodland cover by 1.4 per cent to 14.5 per cent of the target); negativity is dissuading investment in England.

“There is asset management investment money out there. Why should it go to Scotland, Australia or Canada? Let’s create the confidence to keep pension money earned here to remain here, to be invested in our woods, to grow wood for the homes for the people that invest in their pensions [here].

“Industry can’t keep making the argument of how good timber is for carbon, when only 30 per cent ends up in long-term uses such as construction. We must innovate.”

The next APPG, with AGM, will be held on June 6 2023.