The sixth CLA National Forestry Conference took place at Newbury Racecourse in October. Organised by the CLA, the Forestry Commission and Grown in Britain, the sell-out event was sponsored by Pryor and Rickett Silviculture and focused on technology, skills and opportunities.

EARLY in the course of the sixth CLA National Forestry Conference, taking as its theme ‘Next Generation, Securing our Future’, Dame Glenys Stacey, chair of the Office for Environmental Protection, is invited to speak on the benefits of trees and woodlands in the environment and how policy and law can support landowners.

“Government remains committed to leave the environment in a better state for future generations,” she says. “Having set targets and refreshed its Environmental Improvement Plan, what is important now is delivery. Nature is in crisis and forestry and land management have crucial roles to play.”

Established by the Environment Act (2021), the function of the OEP is to hold government (and public authorities in England and Northern Ireland) to account by scrutinising environmental law, statutory environmental targets and the Environmental Improvement Plans (EIP). From 1st November, this will include the Environmental Principles Policy, under which all government departments consider environmental impacts before policy is set and advise on proposed changes to the law. The OEP Enforcement arm is currently considering three big cases.

The OEP’s (independent) Assessment Report (2023) stated that government was not on track to deliver the changes necessary to “significantly improve the environment, the ambition of 16.5 per cent of land area (England) covered by trees in 2050, or planting 30,000 ha of trees per year across the UK by the end of this parliament.” The Climate Change Committee, the Environmental Audit Committee and the National Audit Office have all called for urgent action to be taken.

Forestry Journal: Dame Glenys Stacey, OED, Mark Tufnell, president of the CLA and Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison. Dame Glenys Stacey, OED, Mark Tufnell, president of the CLA and Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison. (Image: FJ)

“Increasing species populations by at least 10 per cent by 2042, increasing canopy cover encourages species populations, woodlands supporting more than 250 of the UK’s 1,000-plus threatened and declining species. Yet only 7 per cent (State of Nature Report, 2023) of woodlands and 36 per cent of woodland SSSIs are in ‘favourable condition’. Growing pressure from climate change (half of the emissions have been released since the late 1980s), P&D, deer and squirrels make this more difficult. Expansion and net improvement of woodland must be central to any target.”

The OEP’s 2024 Assessment (under theme ‘Improving Nature’) will analyse species abundance, nature recovery targets and delivery plans. To deliver targets, local and national government must collaborate in areas of “targeted, timely data collection and collation”, organising the mass of data so the OEP can assess whether government “are on track.”

Next week, the OED deliver their Regulatory Regimes assessment. “We considered the Habitats Regulations Assessment, the Strategic Environmental Assessment and the EIA. Barriers to implementation within the planning system include inadequate data and that post-decision-making monitoring, evaluation and reporting is virtually nonexistent. Critically, if public authorities themselves do not have access to relevant expertise, they follow a risk-averse approach when considering an application.”

She asks: “How do we attract, train and retain the skills and expertise needed to deliver environmental protection? Something is not working.”


Forestry Journal: Trustee of Barningham Estate in Yorkshire, Sir Edward MilbankTrustee of Barningham Estate in Yorkshire, Sir Edward Milbank (Image: FJ)

Trustee of Barningham Estate in Yorkshire, Sir Edward Milbank outlines the benefits of ‘Measuring Assets’, having practically done so himself through Climate Solutions Exchange (CSX), a carbon verification company he founded with CEO Andy Howard in 2020.

The estate has an existing forestry resource and has participated in two ELM test trials and BNG pilots. “I am creating multiple nature-based natural capital projects (carbon and BNG), easily measured and monitored, to provide the data needed for my business’ future and to engage with buyers.”

This year, through CSX, Milbank sold woodland carbon to a law firm. “They analysed our processes, the science underpinning our carbon calculations [to avoid ESG greenwash], and paid more for my carbon than the alternatives. In 2024, potential buyers of carbon include a small financial consultancy requiring nine tonnes and a packaging business requiring 60 tonnes to offset unavoidable emissions.”

Identifying additional land for planting over 100 acres of new woodland, he expects to generate £20,000 per annum in carbon sales for the foreseeable future. “On BNG projects, if we achieve the price we expect, within two years, natural capital will be the estate’s largest industry.” 

Carbon and biodiversity data collection will also be required by banks, which traditionally secure loans against land asset value. “With land-use change, banks will be forced to recognise new income streams and the land’s potential value with carbon and biodiversity nature funds. Insurance companies will follow, with detailed assessments of the changing natural capital required to underpin insurance valuations.”

CSX collected the natural capital data, “so that corporate carbon biodiversity offset buyers have transparent audit trails and high-resolution measurements for nature-based solutions,” says Andy Howard.

CSX grew from two conversations, one with a car manufacturer looking to offset and mitigate carbon emissions at home (not abroad), the second with a farmer who thought that if land management did not change they would not survive, estimating no more than 60 harvests left. “Others think 10 harvests. We don’t have time to put together plans, targets and monitoring mechanisms. We have to act now.”

Globally, corporates are looking to invest $1 trillion in nature-based solutions. In the UK in 2023, corporates wanted to invest in 150–250 m tonnes of CO2. “In England, they can’t because there aren’t enough carbon biodiversity projects.”

Howard suggests current Woodland Carbon Code (WCC) metrics (based on old data) underestimate the amount of carbon stored in a single tree, therefore per hectare. 

CSX ‘measure, monitor and verify’ projects using high-resolution data from multiple sources (satellites, drone optical imaging, terrestrial laser scanning, photogrammetry, drone LIDAR imaging, 3D modelling) to build a detailed picture of resources. Cloud-based AI and machine learning analyses CO2 levels stored in the field, offering a transparent audit trail using real-time geolocation reference points. “Collecting data like this, the landowner receives a fair financial return for carbon biodiversity projects.” 

One ancient oak assessed by CSX was found have a branching structure of 150 km. “That is a lot of carbon the WCC will not let you have.”

Head of business development at Land Energy, Simon Bullock considers ‘Future utilisation of timber residues,’ optimising wood use across the sector and the technologies that can sustain future use of residues beyond biomass and enhance a local economy.

Forestry Journal: Simon Bullock, head of business development, Land Energy.Simon Bullock, head of business development, Land Energy. (Image: FJ)

“Data shows that fibre availability will drop off in the next 30 years. In five-to-six years, large-scale energy subsidy plants coming out of ROCS subsidy will bring more roundwood back into the market. This is the industry’s opportunity to better use the resource (biorefining and more) before we burn it. We are looking for fully optimised solutions, well located, with plentiful feedstock. Collaboration is key.” 

He warns that carbon credits should not become the new RHI. “Projects coming to market underpinned by carbon credits may not be the best use of wood. Forest industry stakeholders should have a say in how those credits are used and how those resources are best utilised. For example, there is a demand for sustainable aviation fuel. Be careful. Projects like this tout forest products as ‘waste products’, which they are absolutely not.”

To illustrate the circular local economy, Land Energy employs 80 people. Within a 10-mile radius of its Girvan base, its spend is £5.5 m, and within 100 miles, £22 m. “Plan in the right place, with the right resource, and keep the money in that area, to boost economic growth and investment in jobs and upskilling.”

For the last 18 months, Land Energy has worked with Daniel Iddon, whose ‘Living Soil’, a fungi-dominated (peat-free) growing medium (compost) has, in trials, promoted 10 per cent more growth in young trees than those treated with synthetic fertilisers. Further trials demonstrated that young trees grown in ‘Living Soil’ are healthier. They are now looking at the commercialisation of the product.   

Iddon says: “This project is about putting life back into woodlands and soils by enhancing the resource you can’t see with all-natural inputs. From a DNA perspective, we share similarities with bark fines, creating a fungal bacteria biome very similar to our woodlands.”

Impressed with the science and innovation heard of so far, Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison MP says: “I don’t dispute anything Dame Stacey said earlier. We need more data and to be aggressively achieving the targets set out. 

“The EIP sets out 10 goals to help improve nature, which is declining, and halting that decline by 2030. Trees in all forms (including commercial planting) are vital to government’s plans to leave the environment in a better state.” It is hoped this will be done by increasing canopy cover from 14.5 to 16.5 per cent by 2050, “or about 400 million extra trees, if they are not damaged by grey squirrels, deer, pests and disease, or by storms.”

The £2.5 m ‘Forestry and Arboriculture Training Fund’ received over 2,000 applicants in three days. “It was oversubscribed. I don’t think we have a challenge in incentivising people to think about careers in forestry.” FC degree-level apprentices are in attendance today.

Government is providing money for planting trees in towns and cities and through EWCO. The availability of the Maintenance Payment may be increased from 10 to 15 years. “Other uplifts come from stacking payments, for planting trees as a riparian buffer or providing access to nature. But, the public purse is finite. I was pleased to hear inspiring words from CSX of the money available to compliment the seed-funding government can provide.” 

Forestry Journal: Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison.Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison. (Image: FJ)

On timber: “Only nine per cent of houses in England incorporate timber in construction. In Scotland it is 90 per cent. Three out of four self-builders choose to build in timber. When people have agency, they choose to build with wood. Why wouldn’t you? 

“Wood in construction needs to be rolled out in public procurement (especially in primary schools). We are speaking with our DLUHC colleagues responsible for planning about how we do just that. Recently, in British Columbia, I saw the way they use glulam technology. We can do much more with that.”

Some announcements: “Planting 400 million trees, they need to be protected. In a few weeks, you can look forward to the Grey Squirrel Action Plan, a multi-pronged investment in contraception proposals, trapping and gene editing. Also the Deer Management Plan, much of which is about increasing the demand for venison (put it on plates in prisons and hospitals).

“In addition to the Timber in Construction Road Map, we have your Wood Strategy. BNG is delayed because we are awaiting a statutory instrument. Coming in early 2024, BNG will make a real difference to woodland creation and getting more private sector investment. 

“In my first week as Minister, I said I wanted to take a chainsaw to the time it takes to plant a tree. The ‘presumption to plant’ will help. But we are struggling to start the chainsaw. So, help me to avoid disappointing Dame Stacey.”

Session host Jane Hull, FC Area Director South East and London, introduces Ben Harrower of BH Wildlife Consultancy, to speak on wildlife management. Harrower, a forester, uses drone technology to survey deer. He recently won Confor’s Innovation Award.

Working with clients up and down the country (already covering almost 500,000 ha), Harrower uses three drones and multiple mobile operators. Each drone has three cameras (wide-angle daylight lens, a thermal imaging lens and optical zoom) and moves across the landscape collecting live GIS data (time-stamped), including heat signatures from within dense stands of trees. Clients can view the live feed. Having the information aids decisions, often tied to government grants, and repeated surveys help to track changes in population and immigration rates.

“Why census deer? Because on most sites, there are larger background populations than expected, especially females. Culling rates are never enough.”

 Thermal signatures are carefully interpreted (AI technology is not yet advanced enough) ensuring that a dead animal or a beehive is not mistaken for a live deer. Other animals surveyed include squirrels and goats. As a by-product, the data collected has produced UK-level species distribution maps. 

Dr Jo Clark, head of research at Future Trees Trust, tells how last year, FTT launched its Strategy 2022–2032, promoting healthy and productive forests by creating genetically diverse breeding populations of commercially important broadleaf trees, through tree breeding, resilience and tree health underpinned by forest genetic resources.

Forestry Journal: Dr Jo Clark, head of research at Future Trees Trust.Dr Jo Clark, head of research at Future Trees Trust. (Image: FJ)

There are four seed categories for commercial timber production broadleaves: ‘Source identified’, ‘Selected’, ‘Qualified’ (5–10-per-cent gain in volume), ‘Tested’. In the UK, the best available is ‘Qualified’, for sycamore, silver birch and wild cherry. Oak (Quercus robur and petraea) could be available in five years. 

The benefits of using ‘improved’ seed include growing bigger plants that get away quicker, lower establishment costs, reduced rotation times, better-formed trees with greater gain, useful for locking up more carbon in timber-frame houses.

Government grants are funding new research into beech and hornbeam. Oak progeny trials of ‘tested’ material were planted out this year. A cherry programme is restarting in the west.

Ash dieback ripped through the Living Ash Project. One per cent of trial trees show tolerance to dieback, as in Europe. During 2022/2023, the numbers of trees under three years old affected by ADB seems to be stabilising, their diamond-shaped lesions seemingly healing. “We know then that the tree has had the disease and is recovering.”


After a morning of technology, a Q&A session and a lunch of venison pie, the afternoon session concentrates on skills.

Session host Tim Bamford, CLA South East Regional Director, introduces Royal Forestry Society CEO Chris Williams to speak on ‘next-generation forestry’.

Williams says: “Growing up, I wanted to work outside and in the environment. I had no forestry role models and no one suggested it to me. Perhaps unconsciously, we fail to reach people, or don’t make it attractive enough for young people to take that step.”

He shows a slide of average global temperatures for each month from 1850 to 2017. The graphic looks similar to the growth rings on a cut tree stem. “For the climate emergency, UK woodlands take up 4.8 m tonnes carbon a year (Forest Research),” (or perhaps more, as heard earlier). “Lack of woodland management is a major cause of biodiversity loss in the UK. 

Forestry Journal:  CSX slide showing difference between satellite and drone image resolutions. CSX slide showing difference between satellite and drone image resolutions. (Image: FJ)

“We have a skills shortage. Between 2021 and 2025, 10 per cent of forestry workers will retire.

"There is a shortfall of new entrants and Brexit has impacted the overseas workforce. The sector is seen as not technically advanced, with little scope for promotion, reward or opportunity. Seen as a family-run industry, it therefore remains invisible to many.”

An EFRA committee is being established to examine the rate of opportunity existing in land-based activities. “Woodland management needs to be included.”

Born after 1997, ‘Gen Z’ is described as independent; they like working with technology, are less tolerant of authoritarian environments, embrace change and value flexibility. “We have a lot to offer this generation and to career-changers, who want better pay, roles they are passionate about and a better work–life balance.”

 Positive developments include new forestry apprenticeships (University of Cumbria/ICF); a skills bootcamp (Northumberland College); the Forestry and Arboricultural Training Fund (£1m from DEFRA); the RFS ‘Forestry Roots’ placements (10 this year).

“What can we do?  Increase the number of forestry courses. Include forestry/agroforestry modules within land-management courses. Run courses where they are easier to reach (London/Birmingham). Offer a graduate conversion course, a PGCF (a postgraduate certificate in forestry?) and work with the EFRA committee and the agricultural sector. Adapt: create new pathways into the industry for the neurodiverse, care leavers and ex-military personnel: promote the positives: improve pay.”

The RFS offers career roadshows, blogs celebrating women in forestry, careers advice. They develop pathways into industry with universities and participate in the Forestry Skills Forum. “The Green Tree badge initiative hopes to engage one million children (via school, Scouts, Guides, or family) in activities that raise awareness of forestry. If you don’t reach that eight-year-old, you won’t reach the 18 -year-old. Make it easier to find the sector and for people to get on board.”

Tom Williams, managing director of Maydencroft, speaks of ‘a world of sustainable environmental solutions.’

Founded in 2007, Maydencroft provides rural services, from landscape, environmental and arb contracting, grounds and estates management, consultancy (arboriculture, ecology, forestry management, nature recovery) to specialisms such as OPM, BNG, recycled plastics, farming and a liquid waste company. Clients such as Thames Water and Tarmac and traditional estates are offered a holistic solution, a one-stop shop for all their land management needs.

Each of Maydencroft’s 140–150 employees benefit from a salaried position. Some are offered perks (electric cars, long service awards) but also flexible working, remote working and flexible annual leave that increases year on year. Reducing working hours by an hour a day saw no operational drop-off. Company social media promotes the company as a good place to work, and when recruiting for managerial positions in the ‘green sector’ it receives over 200 applications.

“We focus on training. We have in-house expertise and employees gain career development, with certificates and something to put on their CV to demonstrate what they have been doing.” 

The Green Skills Academy, created a year ago, has developed 11 courses so far. Some courses are tailored to entrants new to the sector. Specialised courses (LANTRA-badged OPM Awareness and OPM Removal) are aimed at those already in industry that want to upskill.

Forestry Journal: Chris Williams, CEO Royal Forestry Society.Chris Williams, CEO Royal Forestry Society. (Image: FJ)

A new Green Skills Boot Camp, funded by the Mayor of London, is being run in partnership with the London Borough of Hounslow. The three-to-four-week course provides knowledge, skills and expertise (including ‘employability training’, writing CVs, learning interview techniques and how to apply for jobs) for learners (from backgrounds not traditionally able to access the sector) who want to join the ‘green sector’. Several London Boroughs are considering a similar course. One is about to run in the Home Counties.

This year, the FC Forestry Degree Apprenticeship welcomed 14 students, including one with a working background in pest control and four from the NHS. They share some thoughts.

One likes what the future of modern forestry looks like, saying: “Engaging young people is important. New technology will rely on a generation that don’t know they can apply for the forestry sector.”

Finances prohibit many career-changers from joining the sector. A career-changing student not in a position to self-fund their studies is very grateful for this opportunity.

A second-year student sees the potential of using technology as an efficiency in a sector struggling to attract participants. A first-year student has never heard of a career in forestry mentioned in a positive light. “Criminal. It is the future in the emerging green economy. The sectors need to work together to break down walls and expand into a wider context.”

Closing the session, Jane Hull says: “Innovation doesn’t just mean technology. It means behavioural change, building an architecture of trust across all sectors (and supply chain) as we build towards this green economy with urgency.  Better data, better collaboration and communication to tell the story.”