ONE of the precious few success stories in English forest management from the past few decades has been and is the National Forest, which addressed the treeless nature of the English Midlands and set about doing something practical to change and improve it.

Success in this laudable aim was achieved through a system of financial support called the National Forest Tender Scheme, an ingenious way of getting round the basic problem – in England at least – so well identified by good old Len in the letters page of November’s Forestry Journal.

It’s just not possible to buy up cheap hill land for new planting because there isn’t any to be had. So the tender scheme was designed to suit and attract existing landowners. It invited them to design and submit plans for a plantation which delivered specific objectives such as public access, environmental gains, landscape enhancement, social benefits or even – would you believe it – commercial timber production, plus any other benefits which we foresters know can arise from new planting in what is, basically, an agricultural landscape.

Interested parties were then asked to submit their ideas and to tender competitively against other would-be planters. And they did. The relative merits were assessed and funding then arranged to create the best schemes.

The successful ones then got planted, and now the results of this initiative can be seen for themselves. The landscape has changed. There are, as you drive up the M42, which flows through the heart of the tender scheme area, new woods and copses, new hedgerows, new paths, new vistas. In short, it has worked. And, it seems, it can work again. 

I know through these pages I keep harping on about the need for a planting scheme in the UK which actually works. Twenty years ago, Coillte, the Irish State forestry body, considered the same problem and came up with a grant. It seems aid packages actually appealed to the myriad of small farmers and turned them into planters. It was based on the actual mechanics and finances of small farms and small farmers and was a resounding success.

I forget the actual figures, but the planting programme went from more or less no hectares per year to five figures of new forest per annum, no doubt aided by Sitka of yield class 24, relatively commonplace in the Republic.

I used to be amused when DEFRA and the Commish made some doomed announcement which, as often as not, muddled hectares with acres. I suppose that DEFRA finally hauled itself out of its customary silence and made an effort at a press announcement. Its latest was true to form.


Look, for example, into the deeper recesses of The Times from late 2023 and in an unconsidered five inches of column space it seems the government wants to give £10 million of funding to a visionary who can come up with the location of a new forest for the nation, probably located in a belt of mid to northern England between north Derbyshire and the Tees Valley.

It seems the government thinks this will be the largest new forest creation in England in the past thousand years.

Sad, isn’t it? But there is more. And don’t hold your breath, will you? The result of this forestry lottery will be announced in autumn. It’s sad too that a half-cocked proposal like this can possibly advance without any clear objective apart from a rather curious ambition to increase the area of woodland in the UK, currently languishing at the bottom of the European league with 13 per cent of land cover compared with the average of 46 per cent over the channel.

But just watch this space. Tanarus already has the germ of an idea to relieve the taxpayer of the £10 m. Please keep in touch. Some good might just come of it all.

What’s that you say? I’ll pretend that I didn’t hear that last remark! And a very happy new year to you all.