Government is failing forestry says official report

Posted On: 
21st March 2017

A report published today by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Sub-Committee says the current Government is failing to ensure realisation of the huge environmental, social and economic benefits of forestry, which Defra says are worth at least £1.8billion to the UK economy each year. 

In Forestry in England: seeing the wood for the trees, the Sub-Committee heavily criticises the Government over low planting rates (saying it is on course to fail to meet its target of 12% cover by 2060), overly bureaucratic systems, lack of proper recording for woodland loss and inadequate protection for ancient woodland. 

The Sub-Committee was appointed in July 2016 by the Commons Efra Committee to scrutinise the work of the Government in relation to forestry in England since the publication of the Independent Panel on Forestry’s report in 20121. The Woodland Trust was one of 70 organisations to submit evidence as part of the cross-party inquiry. 

The Woodland Trust has campaigned on many of the issues the report raises for years and welcomes the recommendations within it. We’re pleased to see the strength of the report in terms of recognition of poor planting rates and the need to quickly simplify the process. The report is also unequivocal on the need to amend planning guidance to improve protection for ancient woodland. 

Woodland Trust Chief Executive, Beccy Speight, said: 

“This report clearly highlights the barriers to progress that forestry in England faces. It’s incredibly valuable, particularly with Brexit just around the corner. 
“Government policy is failing forestry catastrophically and urgent action is needed. 

Planting rates are shockingly low – we believe parts of the UK are at real risk of deforestation.  Grant systems are complex and restrictive, and protection for ancient woodland is weak.

“Crucially, the report sets out what government must do now to bring about dramatic change for our forests’ future, and it’s really not rocket science. 

“The quickest win of all would be to follow through on the report’s recommendation to amend planning policy to secure better protection for ancient woodland. Recent Housing White Paper proposals also support this need, and with the National Planning Policy Framework being reviewed later this year, it’s perfect timing.

“There’s no excuse now for government to bury its head in the sand as it’s seemingly done since responding to the Independent Panel Report in 2013.”

In particular, the Woodland Trust is pleased to see the following recommendations by the EFRA Sub-Committee: 

Ancient woodland protection:
We recommend that Defra, the Forestry Commission and organisations such as the Woodland Trust meet by July 1 to discuss measurement of the loss of ancient woodland and steps that should be taken to prevent, and better record, its loss. Further, we recommend that Defra should write to us with an update on the outcome of this meeting by 31 July 2017. 

We recommend that the government instructs Natural England and Forestry Commission to maintain an up-to-date readily available public register of ancient and veteran trees and an inventory of ancient woodland annually. Further we recommend loss of ancient woodland and trees regardless of its size should be recorded in the register and inventory.

Woodland creation: 
The Government should clarify whether it remains committed to the 2060 ambition [to reach 12% woodland cover] and how it will bring about the step change needed in planting to reach this ambition, including setting woodland creation targets for 5 year intervals until 2060. 

We recommend that the Government takes steps now so that it is able to reinstate a one-stop shop for forestry grants on day one of the UK’s exit from the EU. 
We recommend that in any grant schemes introduced by the Government after the UK leaves the EU the dual benefits of agriculture and forestry should be recognised by having a single grant scheme to support both sectors.  

The Forestry Commission must release clear and accessible information on woodland creation and woodland cover in England every 6 months.

Pests and diseases: 
The government must provide certainty on how it will fill the gap in research funding for organisations such as Forest Research after the UK leaves the European Union.

Read the full Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Sub-Committee report here.