FORESTRY minister, David Rutley MP, recently visited Northumberland to explore tree planting opportunities in the region.

The minister met with Confor delegates aiming to improve low tree planting rates south of the Border, hearing first hand about the barriers faced by landowners looking to plant trees.

He began with a tour of the Egger Sawmill in Hexham, followed by a round-table discussion on the forthcoming tree strategy and a meeting with Northumberland National Park.

During his morning visit to Egger, the forestry minister said: “Tree planting is increasingly recognised as an effective way to reduce net emissions and respond to the climate emergency. Forests are not only a carbon sink, but help with preventing the erosion of soils, and reducing flood risks, whilst also providing us with fantastic recreational spaces. A great example of this is Kielder Forest. I strongly believe that we must raise our level of ambition and plant more trees: we need to go a lot further and I see Northumberland playing an integral part in this.”

John Paterson, director of Egger Forestry, added: “We were delighted to have the Minister visit our plant where we were able to show him the manufacturing process and range of panel-based products produced in Hexham. Northumberland is a fantastic location for afforestation and we look forward to further discussion on the future of large-scale planting opportunities. Egger makes a considerable contribution to both the local and national economy and as a company we are encouraged by the initial steps taken recently in terms of woodland creation targets, which will be a key component for promoting confidence for this domestic industry in the years ahead.”

In the afternoon, the minister visited Wallshield Farm near Haltwhistle, where he met farmer and forestry manager of David & Robertson, Iain Kyle, who provided an overview of the practical issues faced with getting tree planting schemes – highlighting how much simpler the process is in Scotland, as well as discussing diversity of species planted.

He said: “At Davidson & Robertson around 70% of our woodland planting and management work is in Scotland, but with less English red tape we’re looking forward to that changing. Anything that can make it easier will make tree planting more appealing in England.

“We have a Cumbrian client with a large tree planting proposal in the pipeline and we’re proactively dealing with the issues, but unnecessary complexities stifle and slow the process down. I hope today is a springboard to develop a process in England that encourages us to plant a greater number of trees – and more diverse species.”

The minister concluded: “Confor in Northumberland has an encouraging sense of purpose and today’s visit is made even better by coming out on the ground. Talking to Iain, he has a positive attitude and a can-do approach, looking at the challenges as opportunities in a very practical way and looking for lessons to improve rather than just seeing problems. Planting alongside farming for sustainable income, his story is an excellent case study.”