This article is part of our series of coverage from 2023's Confor Woodland Show. A full feature is in October's edition of the magazine, and we'll have lots more content across our channels. 

AS usual, any major event provides a chance to take stock of the current situation in forestry. Coming in the week the Forestry Commission (FC) had announced sweeping changes to the consultation process on woodland-creation applications, the CWS was the perfect place to do just that. 

Is now a good or a bad time for the industry? Reactions were mixed. Many seemed positive about what the future holds, with England’s forestry minister, Trudy Harrison, hitting all the right notes and, on the face of it, driving meaningful change. However, the country’s planting woes continue to be cause for concern. 

READ MORE: Forestry Commission makes changes to tree planting paperwork

“There is a lot of worry about budgets and no one is really certain where the forestry industry is going at the moment,” said the Forestry Contracting Association’s (FCA) Nick Adams. “What’s happening on the ground and the rhetoric don’t seem to meet up in the middle. There are a lot of worried people wondering what is going to happen and whether or not we are going to have jobs in the next 18 months or so.

“As a planting contractor, I am still not sure how much I will actually be able to plant. I still haven’t had all tenders back. It’s hard to plan anything if you don’t know what you’ve got to do.” 

Forestry Journal: Nick Adams sounded a warning note over the industry's future Nick Adams sounded a warning note over the industry's future (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

He added: “It’s very hard to be in business at the moment. From a planting point of view, we are struggling for labour. It is difficult to attract people when we are competing with other industries which may be offering something better than we can.” 

Striking a slightly more positive tone was John Bruce, who recently took over as England national manager for show hosts Confor. Welcoming the FC’s changes to the planting application process, he was happy to see Ms Harrison stick to her word and “take a chainsaw to the time it takes to plant a tree”. But he was aware of the challenges the industry faced in overcoming objections to commercial forestry. 

“We want to ensure that we can get more softwood planted for the future,” he said. “We need to be able to deal with things like net zero and timber security issues, especially as we compete with other countries for wood.

“Forestry is in a really exciting place. If you look now, we have the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) scheme, which is probably one of the best schemes on offer. But at the moment we are not seeing a lot of productive softwood planting from that. That’s what we want to try and change.

Forestry Journal: John Bruce, Confor National Manager for EnglandJohn Bruce, Confor National Manager for England (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

“It is encouraging that there has been a recognition that we need more woodlands and more trees. We just need to bang the drum that we need a little bit more focus on timber production like we used to do.” 

He added: “We do just need to clean up some of the mistakes from the past, such as planting trees in the wrong place or using techniques that were not good for the environment. We have learned a lot of lessons from the past.”