As the new Wales environmental body winds a tortuous way towards its launch next April its name has been confirmed: Natural Resources Wales / Cyfoeth Naturiol Cymru. The membership of its Board has also been announced.
What exactly are its duties in relation to trees woodland and forestry? Natural Resources Wales has very significant responsibilities for forestry. It will manage nearly half of all woods in Wales and will dominate both woodland conservation and the substantial commercial forest industry in Wales.
We have been involved in a bit of a debate with other organisations on whether a duty to support productive forestry should be balanced against, or subservient to, a duty to conserve nature. We are supporting the balancing approach, which is how the existing Forestry Commission operates. We believe this properly recognises the importance of the economic value of forestry and is in keeping with the principles of sustainable development - which require equal attention to economic, social and environmental considerations.
In forestry there is a robust framework in place, the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme, that provides for independent audit to ensure forests are managed sustainably. The Welsh Government’s forest management is subject to this certification. It gives us all a means of raising concerns if we think forestry practices on the estate are compromising environmental and social outcomes.
There is some concern in conservation circles that the way the body’s purpose is being defined and putting “resources” in its name, is moving it too far from being an environmental organisation and towards having an economic purpose. I think this needs to be understood in terms of the Welsh Government’s unique legal obligation to further sustainable development. It challenges all of us in the environmental sector to aspire to deliver all three objectives of sustainable development and not just to focus on the environmental one. It also challenges the Government and other sectors to do the same and to properly embed environmental considerations in the pursuit of social and economic outcomes, and we need to hold them to account on that.
Welcome to the Board Members
We would like to extend a warm welcome to the board members of the new body. We have right from the start seen this new body as a once in a generation opportunity to properly develop the many and various benefits from trees and woodland in a more comprehensive and integrated way. We very much look forward to working with the new body to help it achieve this.
Specific forestry expertise does not seem to be particularly prominent at the most senior level in this new body. We accept the Welsh Government’s argument on this, that board members are there to create and manage the whole organisation and not to champion one particular sector. It is though a bit disappointing that there was no one available who has both in depth forestry experience and the necessary wider strategic and business expertise? We should expect all the senior management team to understand and fully develop the potential of the woodland sector. We’ll offer our help to them in doing this and it is really important that they continue to have a source of guidance from the Woodland Strategy Advisory Panel, or something like it. We hope to see Board members regularly at Panel meetings.
Much is still unclear as to how exactly this new organisation will meet its responsibilities. We have put together some questions and challenges we would like the Board members and the Government to consider. These relate to: how it will interpret its forestry duties, how it will fully develop the opportunities for new woodland creation and woodland access, how it will properly protect our ancient tree and woodland heritage, how it will guarantee to manage the Government’s forestry estate in commercially effective but sustainable way, and how it will address the current very worrying issues around the spread of devastating tree diseases.
Read more on What the new Wales Single Body needs to do for trees
Jerry Langford, Wales Director