Held in December, Confor’s 2023 policy conference saw the launch of the National Wood Strategy for England (NWSE), sessions arguing for various actions to support the industry and an address from the government’s new forestry minister.

‘GREEN Growth: Why wood is the missing low-carbon link’ is the title of Confor’s UK Policy Conference in December 2023. Held at the QEII Centre in Westminster, the event is sponsored by Scottish Woodland, Tilhill and Gresham House. 

Host David Lee thanks those attending “in the face of ministerial reshuffles, policy frustrations and train strikes,” and invites Confor’s chair Lord Duncan to open ‘Session One: The Headlines’.

Welcoming delegates, Lord Duncan states that at COP28, sustainable forestry has, for the first time, been recognised alongside carbon capture utilisation and storage as a way to sequester carbon, “not just in the trees grown, but also in the built environment”.

Following November’s ministerial reshuffle, he says Rebecca Pow MP fought for the forestry portfolio. “On her desk are the NWSE and the EAC report, Timber in Construction Roadmap and Timber Sector Deal.”

In a pre-recorded key note video address, DEFRA’s Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Environmental Quality and Resilience (including forestry matters), says she is aware the timber industry needs focus.

“Trees remain at the forefront of government’s plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, to reverse the downward curve of biodiversity loss and to create thousands of green jobs, whilst better connecting people with nature.”

“This year, legislation secured a statutory target to increase tree canopy and woodland cover in England to 16.5 per cent [260,000 ha] by 2050, trees that will absorb millions of tonnes of carbon by 2050 and deliver manifesto commitments to plant 30,000 ha of trees each year across the UK.

Forestry Journal: Rebecca Pow MP, the new Forestry Minister, delivers a video address. Rebecca Pow MP, the new Forestry Minister, delivers a video address. (Image: FJ/CL)

“We aim to plant a range of woodlands, from native broadleaf woodlands (for wildlife) through to productive (mostly) conifer woodlands, which absorb carbon faster and contribute to the green economy through timber.”

On the NWSE, she welcomes the collaboration across the sector and with her department, throughout its development. “The strategy will highlight opportunities for innovation and growth in a sector with strong potential to positively contribute to net zero, biodiversity gain, housing and health.”

In 2022, imports of wood product into the UK were valued at £11.5 billion. The World Bank forecasts that global demand for timber will quadruple by 2050. “We must utilise more home-grown timber and remove our reliance on imports.”

To increase domestic timber supplies, government supports improving the condition of existing woodlands, creating “a pool of locally-sourced timber and coppice products. A £1.25 million ‘Routes to Market for Ash Timber Innovation Fund’ supports projects developing new uses for felled ADB-infected ash timbers.

Government is still committed to publishing the ‘Timber in Construction (TIC) Roadmap’ (released the week after conference). The ‘TIC Innovation Fund’ encourages applicants to develop new timber products, or new methods of construction, to enable greater use of British timber.


A £2.5 million ‘Forestry and Arboriculture Training Fund’ received 2,000 applicants in three days. “The NWSE highlights the skilled workforce needed to deliver on government objectives. This is crucial. We are working to deliver a range of packages to support growth and innovation in the forestry and wood processing sectors, creating new green jobs and helping level up the rural economy.”

Confor’s chief executive Stuart Goodall reminds us that following Trudy Harrison’s support, all types of forestry are to be included in future planting targets.

He says: “Home-grown wood has a valuable role beyond net zero. Support in public policy has been patchy. Current strategies and standards say almost nothing about it.”

At COP28, 17 countries, including the UK government, endorsed the message that wood production is important in achieving net zero.

However, timber forecasts indicate that by 2040, there will be less home-grown timber available than now.

“Standing on a global stage saying you will lead from the front, you then have to deliver on your statements, not only achieving at home but with our global contribution to net zero.

“Today, I want to establish why wood production is good, who needs to know, and to make sure those audiences understand increased wood production, for timber security and to secure that future supply, to then ensure that public policy changes to ‘standards’ do not undermine that.”

The Climate Change Committee’s head of land and nature, Dr Niki Rust, says: “To reach net zero by 2050, we advised the target of planting 30,000 ha of trees per year by 2025, afterwards increasing to 50,000 ha. We advised that tree cover, both conifer and broadleaf, increase from 13 to 18 per cent across the whole of the UK.” 

Forestry Journal: Climate Change Committee’s head of land and nature, Dr Niki Rust.Climate Change Committee’s head of land and nature, Dr Niki Rust. (Image: FJ/CL)

Currently, the government is not on track to reach net zero by 2050, “due to our inability to plant. In 2021, Storm Arden destroyed over 12,000 ha of forestry. Include trees lost to pests and disease and the net amount of trees planted in 2021 is approaching zero.”

The extremes of climate change are expected to increase. “We need to consider the permanence of carbon credits, planting more diverse and resilient tree stock and better designed woodlands.”

She advises increasing the sector’s skilled workforce; offering rural communities reassurance of a just transition (not a land grab by large private companies); supporting tenant farmers to undertake environmental initiatives. Developing market forces to help sector growth could benefit from support written into new trade deals.


Forestry Journal: Confor’s deputy chief executive Andy Leitch.Confor’s deputy chief executive Andy Leitch. (Image: FJ/CL)

Confor’s deputy chief executive Andy Leitch explains ‘why wood is vital for a future green economy’.

“Signing up to the COP declaration and, with the imminent TIC Roadmap, the NWSE and the Welsh Timber Strategy, domestic demand is set to increase.

“Construction uses softwood. In 2022, the UK consumed 15.8 million m3 of timber in construction. Sawn softwood accounted for 8,663 million m3 vs 807,000 m3 of hardwood.” The UK supplied 34 per cent of this sawn softwood. 

In 2022, England supplied almost 1 million m³ of sawn softwood. Only 11 per cent went directly into construction. In England, the demand for sawn C16 softwood in new-build timber-frame construction is 9 per cent (in Scotland it is 90 per cent).

“Hypothetically increase this market share to 40 per cent, and in England demand increases to 1.3 million m³. For panel board 400,000 m³ and more if we manufactured the wood fibre insulation required by today’s architects.”

Further opportunities exist in supplying public building programmers (Gen Zero): building small-scale prototype CLT classrooms and sports halls (as demonstrated by ‘Ecosystems Technologies’, Invergordon, Scottish Highlands); retrofitting existing housing stock; off-site solutions (building on existing city buildings in lightweight timber as popularised in Sweden).

“Species diversity is important, but we need scale. The majority of species grown in England are hardwoods,” 3 per cent is the percentage of hardwoods used in construction in the UK, “mainly because we do not grow quality hardwoods. For a hard-wood sawn wood supply in 100 years’ time, we have to plant now. For home-grown timber in construction in the short-to-medium term, we must continue to plant Sitka.”

Associate professor and head, Centre for Wood Science and Technology at Edinburgh Napier University, Dan Ridley-Ellis, says: “New-build timber-framed houses generally contain little sawn wood. The wood used is mostly in engineered products and laminates, so using high-quality timbers is not necessary. Knowing a timber’s properties, you can use it one way or another,” in thermally modified wood or glulam, for example.

“Home-grown hardwood can only ever be a small contribution to our timber needs.

Forestry Journal: Associate professor and head, Centre for Wood Science and Technology at Edinburgh Napier University, Dan Ridley-Ellis.Associate professor and head, Centre for Wood Science and Technology at Edinburgh Napier University, Dan Ridley-Ellis. (Image: FJ/CL)

"Softwood will always be important. But we will need everything, including recovered wood from recycling.”

Dr Eilidh Forster, researcher at Bangor University, outlines the carbon story of UK wood and the benefits of circularity.

“Rising demand for wood reduces its overall mitigation potential and we run the risk of tipping from mitigation into increased emissions.”

At home, “a business-as-usual approach increases reliance on imports.” A short-term change in wood use significantly reduces emissions by “moderating demand for virgin material. Committing to a complimentary afforestation strategy, while slow to gain momentum, has genuine impact.”

A circular economy uses wood already in the value chain (e.g. reusing wood panels or wood resin) “by doing more with the wood we already use, reducing the demand for land and the demand for urgent material.

“Any climate change strategy must include a vision that everyone can buy into, including agreement on the role of forestry in a circular bio-economy.”

PA Cooperative’s Rachael Clamp outlines ‘Forests and Wood: Why simple messages matter’. There are five principles in effective communication: targeting; frequency; creating a message to use many times; integrating it in all communications; taking the time to listen and learn.

Forestry Journal:  Dr Eilidh Forster, researcher at Bangor University. Dr Eilidh Forster, researcher at Bangor University. (Image: FJ/CL)

 “How to get our message across in an election year?  Bring your local MP to the APPG or share Confor’s messaging. But pace yourself: next year will bring change; it is 2025 when the hard work will start.” 

Ex-forestry minister Trudy Harrison joins just before the launch of the National Wood Strategy for England. She tells FJ: “You have definitely not lost me. In fact, within the first week of being a backbencher, I met with Stuart Goodall in Portcullis House asking what advice he has for how I can stay involved.” Living in an area that benefits from FC forests, Harrison says she has since joined every APPG that mentions trees and timber.


Forestry Journal: Gail Merriman, head of Timber Industrial Strategy, Welsh Government.Gail Merriman, head of Timber Industrial Strategy, Welsh Government. (Image: FJ/CL)

Gail Merriman, head of timber industrial strategy, Welsh Government, outlines lessons from Wales in prioritising domestic wood use.

Merriman heads a strategy that develops environmental, economic and social values while producing sustainable Welsh wood. She is supported by a working group whose “Home-Grown Homes II’, a £1.5 million project, aims to increase timber volumes in the construction of social housing.

Political ‘short-termism’ (election cycles, changes in portfolios and changes made by new entrants wanting to leave their mark) creates barriers to a thriving timber industry. “Forestry needs stability”. Wales hopes to achieve this through its globally responsible ‘Wellbeing of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015’, under which the public sector must consider wellbeing in policy decisions or when spending public money.

Tom Barnes, managing director of Vastern Timber, outlines the National Wood Strategy for England, co-authored with Confor’s Andy Leitch, with input from industry.

Forestry Journal: Panel (l-r) Dr Eilidh Forster; Andy Leitch; Dan Ridley-Ellis; Dr Niki Rust.Panel (l-r) Dr Eilidh Forster; Andy Leitch; Dan Ridley-Ellis; Dr Niki Rust. (Image: FJ/CL)

He says Trudy Harrison and Richard Stanford “have been consistently supportive of productive forestry and England’s planting rates are up by 40 per cent”.

NWSE focuses on planting, harvesting and processing conifers and broadleaves in England. “Continuing the ‘business-as-usual’ approach will not achieve targets or expand future home-grown timber supply.”

The NWSE offers an optimistic future, but also a sobering assessment of the challenges. “It is an action-oriented document to provide next steps that are relevant now, not in a year’s time.”

The document contains six strategic goals, each with targets and actions, for government, for industry and for collaboration between all sectors.

DEFRA’s response to the National Wood Strategy begins with Naomi Matthiessen, trees co-lead, outlining supportive measures already taken.

“We aim to increase conifers to 30 per cent of total planting. The ‘Levelling Up and Regeneration Act 2023’ enables reform of forestry EIA regulations and to speed up processes. The planting window on receipt of EWCO grants has extended to three years, and on maintenance payments to 15 years. Under ELMS, the woodland creation offer will largely mirror EWCO.”

Forestry Journal: Stuart Goodall shows a slide, “government’s own evidence”, which illustrates that from 2022 to 2100, among the many types of woodland creation, fast-growing productive conifers (Sitka, thinned) deliver the greatest carbon uptake, up to and beyond 2050 (Sustainable Forestry Carbon Cycle, by Robert Matthews of Forest Research).Stuart Goodall shows a slide, “government’s own evidence”, which illustrates that from 2022 to 2100, among the many types of woodland creation, fast-growing productive conifers (Sitka, thinned) deliver the greatest carbon uptake, up to and beyond 2050 (Sustainable Forestry Carbon Cycle, by Robert Matthews of Forest Research). (Image: FJ/CL)

Now publishing woodland carbon unit price data for transparency, “we are exploring changes to the Woodland Carbon Code and the inclusion of woodland carbon units in UK trading schemes.” The Department of Energy Security and Net Zero may announce a consultation in 2024.

£4.9 m is currently being spent on forestry education and skills, including support for an FC ‘Apprentices Outreach Programme’, doubling “the number of training providers offering the Forest Craftsperson Apprenticeship by 2025.”

Richard Stanford, Forestry Commission CEO, says, “In the last 10 years, we have restored 29,000 ha of PAWS and 5,000 ha of open habitat. We have lost 800 ha to Statutory Plant Health Notices, not restocked. We have planted 1,500 ha of conifer.

"That is a net loss of 34,000 ha of productive forestry. The restorations were the right thing to do. We should do compensatory planting.

“Government has put £750 million into tree planting and peat restoration, but we ended up incentivising slow-growing broadleaf species over fast-growing conifers and broadleaf. For timber security, we need 260,000 ha to reach 16.5 per-cent tree cover.

Forestry Journal: Tom Barnes presents the National Wood Strategy Tom Barnes presents the National Wood Strategy (Image: Supplied)

“Why is nobody talking about timber security? It’s not sexy or on the political radar, but it will bite us on the backside in 40 years’ time or less if we don’t.”

Stanford is now under his fourth Secretary of State. “We need to provide solutions, to stop asking for permission. We all need to get the word out there,” to plant the seeds of under-standing in people’s heads. “The NWSE is a brilliant first step.”


Forestry Journal: Richard Stanford, Forestry Commission CEO.Richard Stanford, Forestry Commission CEO. (Image: FJ/CL)

Industry professionals address what the next government should do to help the forestry industry deliver green growth to Britain.

Managing director of Gresham House, Olly Hughes, recommends: “Create long-term plans and set targets for what government and society require from a timber, carbon and natural capital perspectives.

“Set appropriate short and medium targets for each requirement. Build specific standards and regulations around those targets. Stop thinking private capital is bad.

"Partner with private capital to leverage the good that a diminishing pool of public funding can deliver. Deliver a vision and consistent leadership that takes responsibility for targets, and Gresham House will follow.”

Managing director of Tilhill, Harry Stevens, speaks of home-grown timber in construction: “We have heard the opportunity to expand home-grown timber into construction in England is there. Construction accounts for 25 per cent of carbon the UK produces. Using more timber would be welcome.”

Scottish Woodlands carbon manager Emma Kerr outlines a potential unintended consequence for domestic timber supply following changes to the Woodland Carbon Code (WCC) in 2022.

For James Jones & Sons, Scottish Woodlands planted an 87-ha offset woodland, designed to UKFS, with a mix of Sitka (77 per cent), mixed conifer (15 per cent) and mixed broadleaf (7 per cent). The scheme was validated under WCC Version 2.0 in 2019.

In 2022, under WCC Version 2.2, the planting mix allowed would have been very different, mixed broadleaf (55 per cent), Sitka (40 per cent) and mixed conifer (5 per cent). The result, a 47-per-cent drop in productive timber tonnage available, reducing the amount of carcassing material available for housing from 900 houses (4,500 m³) to 472 houses (2,362 m³). 

Forestry Journal: Andy Leitch; Confor’s Stuart Goodall; Trudy Harrison MP; Tom Barnes.Andy Leitch; Confor’s Stuart Goodall; Trudy Harrison MP; Tom Barnes. (Image: FJ/CL)

“This change could dilute the area of new production conifer by 50 per cent across the UK. James Jones says 25 ha of spruce provides one sustainable job.”  These new rules could halve the number of jobs.

English Woodlands director Laura Henderson says: “We need to define policy needs, to understand the regional resource we work with, and what the markets can provide to incentivise clear actions.”

The National Forestry Inventory data, last collected in 2011, “needs updating in order to understand the resource we must build objectives around.” In 2011, 41 per cent of English woodlands were between 0.5 and 20 ha in size, possibly corresponding to 42 per cent of woodlands being unmanaged. “Understand the challenges small woodlands face and the regional variations. We can then build policies that reflect regional nuance.” 

Henderson suggests the Forestry Act (1967) be reviewed, to see if the regulations are still relevant. For example, “it is restrictive on the species allowed in restocking, which doesn’t allow us to respond to environmental challenges of the day.”

The message from 17th speaker Richard Hunter, Confor’s technical and industry support manager, is short. “Forestry is great, but we need to work on awareness and access. You cannot have one without the other. If students are interested to study forestry but there is nowhere to study, we have lost them.” He urges anyone with the time to become a STEM ambassador, visiting schools to talk about forestry. Opposite the QEII Centre, the parliamentary Christmas tree lights up below Big Ben as David Lee concludes: “I hope to see you next year, possibly with a new government and fewer policy frustrations and with Tom Barnes ripping up the NWSE because everything in it has been delivered.”

A digital version of the NWSE can be found at www.nationalwoodstrategy.co.uk. 
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