INCREASING woodland cover beyond the government's target and planting more coniferous species are among the key actions set out in a new blueprint for England's forestry sector. 

The National Wood Strategy for England was launched at December's Confor policy conference in London, with the document also calling for 75 per cent of private woodlands to be under active management by 2040 and for a positive and consistent narrative on the creation of productive forests.

Speaking at the conference, co-author Tom Barnes said that the real measure of success of the Strategy would be the delivery of its aims through collaboration between industry, UK Government, forestry agencies, investors and environmental organisations. Tom highlighted plans to prepare a Strategy at Confor’s 2022 conference, and handed out hard copies exactly a year later. 

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The Strategy is a blueprint for “planting, growing, harvesting and processing conifer and broadleaf trees in England” and aims to put timber production at the heart of policymaking. It contains six key goals that must be addressed by the wider industry. 

These are: 

Goal 1
Stabilise and then increase the timber resource in England.

Goal 2
Exceed the Government’s statutory target for tree and woodland cover.

Goal 3
Increase the use and lifespan of English wood.

Goal 4
Create a predictable and consistent investment environment.

Goal 5
Present a consistent and positive message on productive woodlands.

Goal 6
Develop a skilled workforce.

Tom who co-wrote the document with Confor deputy CEO Andy Leitch, said the key message from the Strategy was ‘clarity’ – why do we want to plant trees? This included clarity (and honesty) about the fact that if the UK wants to grow more of its own timber, it must grow more softwood – and therefore plant far more fast-growing conifer trees.

He praised the “considerable input” of the Forestry Commission, and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), saying: “The previous Minister [Trudy Harrison MP] and the Forestry Commission have been consistently and openly supportive of productive forestry in the last year.”

Tom said the Strategy had to be seen in the context of rising global demand for wood (and future wood shortages) and the statutory target of increasing UK woodland cover to 16.5 per cent by 2050. He stressed that the status quo simply wasn’t enough and highlighted the five Cs of the “action-oriented” Strategy: Clarity; Consistency; Capital; Communication; and Collaboration.

If the Strategy had to come down to one word, it was ‘clarity’, he said, including clarity about where timber came from: “If we want more timber, we need to grow more softwood, and if we want more softwood, we need more conifer trees.” As a result, the Strategy calls for clear targets for creating wood-producing forests, clear and consistent support for creating those forests – and better communication of the need to plant woodlands for timber production as well as climate change and biodiversity.

Forestry Journal: Co-author Tom Barnes presented the strategy this week Co-author Tom Barnes presented the strategy this week (Image: Supplied)

Tom said collaboration was at the very heart of the Strategy succeeding and said it was crucial to continue the positive partnership working that created the Strategy through into delivering it. 

“It is how we create a strategic wood reserve for the future,” he said. ”I applaud those who put their heads above the parapet and went beyond silo thinking.”

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The next step, he said, was to create an Industry Leadership Group board to deliver the Strategy and monitor progress – and deliver the statutory target of at least 16.5 per cent woodland cover in the UK by 2050. This would be done through “short, sharp workshops”, he said.

Tom concluded: “Forestry has momentum. Let’s replace doom and gloom with positive news.” And he challenged everyone in the room by saying: “What part will You play to deliver the planting target by 2050?”

Forestry Journal will have more in-depth coverage of the strategy across its channels.