THE chief executive of the Forestry Commission will today call for a new approach to how we view trees and forestry in England. 

In a speech at the Confor conference in Westminster, Richard Stanford will champion the benefits of tree planting in addressing the urgent climate, biodiversity and economic challenges of the day and demand an acceleration in tree-planting rates across the country. 

He will highlight how we need to adopt a diverse planting mix of both broadleaves and conifers, which he says will simultaneously improve biodiversity, tackle the climate emergency and provide timber security. 

READ MORE: Forest Research woodland statistics: UK misses annual tree-planting targets again

He is also calling for people to rethink “dogma” around conifer trees; too many view them as a poor choice, he will say, overlooking the fact that the UK is the second-largest net importer of timber and timber products in the world. 

During his speech, Richard will say: “If we are to achieve Net Zero and improve people’s lives through a connection to the environment, we must grow more trees. 

"If we are to tackle the nature and biodiversity crises, we need to grow more trees. 

"We must use more home-grown timber in construction to lock up carbon in our buildings for the long term ... we cannot continue importing 81 per cent of our timber. We need a timber strategy to establish how we are going to achieve this, and at the same time give reassurance to our important timber and forestry industries.” 

He will highlight how the UK is facing a timber security crisis akin to the food security crisis and back calls for a national timber strategy to boost domestic production and reduce our reliance on imports. A total of 53 million tonnes of wood and wood products are consumed in the UK each year; however, 81 per cent is imported from abroad. 

The UK forestry and primary wood processing sectors support 32,000 jobs and contribute £2 billion to the economy every year. Secondary wood processing businesses support a further 60,000 jobs. 

Reflecting on the economic contributions of the forestry and construction sectors, he will say: “The economic benefits provided by forestry and primary wood processing are comparable to those of the dairy products sector and are greater than those provided by the UK fishing fleet.  

“We do not grow enough timber for construction in the UK and we import 81 per cent of our requirements. With the removal of Russian and Belarusian timber, there will be a requirement to seek other supplies. 

“We should view ‘timber security’ through the same lens as food security and recognise that investing in timber is an investment in growth and levelling up. 

Forestry Journal: Richard Stanford, far left Richard Stanford, far left (Image: FJ)

“The construction industry in England is responsible for huge levels of emissions; timber is the only way to reduce emissions in construction whilst concurrently locking up carbon for the long term in the timber in buildings.”

Voicing his support for planting well-designed and managed mixed woodlands, he will go on to say: “Well-managed broadleaf woodlands provide habitat for a vast array of flora and fauna. Conifers and mixed woodland also contribute to biodiversity." 

In a change to 2021's planting figures, more broadleaves were planted than conifers across the UK in the 12 months prior to March, with only Scotland putting more of the latter in the ground. Overall 6,960 hectares of broadleaves were planted (up from 6,220 ha), while conifers accounted for 6,880 ha (down from 7,190 ha in 2021). 

Richard will say: “We must end the dogma of native broadleaf good, conifer bad. Well-managed conifer forests with plenty of light and structure can support a wide range of wildlife, including woodland birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, plants and fungi. Mature conifers provide roosting holes for bats, nest sites for kites, goshawk and pine martens and seeds for red squirrels, siskins and crossbills. 

"We need all types of woodlands for a range of outcomes and we need diversity in our trees to provide resilience.”  

READ MORE: CO2: Conifer or broadleaf - which soaks up more? Forest Research report sheds some light

Like every nation in the UK, England fell short of its annual planting target, putting just 2,260 ha of new woodland in the ground from March 2021 to March 2022.  

Addressing the challenge of increasing tree planting rates and woodland creation, he will say: “Woodland is the most regulated form of land use in England, odd given the huge number of benefits of trees. No other land use is underpinned by a standard that is backed by government and based on internationally agreed criteria and indicators. 

“If we do not plan and deliver woodland expansion now in a few years’ time there is likely to be a scramble to grow more trees. Rushing to grow trees without adhering to the very high standards of today will lead to mistakes."