I was delighted at the invitation to be a member of the Independent Forestry Panel, set up by the Government in 2011 following their U-turn over the sale of the public forest estate (PFE) in England.
Producing the report has been a long, hard but fascinating process involving many meetings, site visits all over the country and study of research reports for the Panel members, but today we have finally delivered our recommendations. The report indicates that the government and society are missing a huge opportunity if we don’t keep the spotlight on woods. The recommendations should be accepted by the Government and acted upon soon.
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited recommendations in the report are those around the sale of the PFE. I believe the Panel recommendations have answered the calls by NGOs (including the Woodland Trust) and the public to protect the PFE in perpetuity, and take it out of the short-term cycle of political interference.
I was pleased with the panel report; the panel had some stimulating debate on many critical issues. Our work has shown us that society needs to view forests and forestry differently – they’re more complex than most realise: not just industry, not just nature conservation, they’re both and much more! There are enormous social, economic and environmental (air quality, soil stability, wind reduction, shade, water quality, carbon storage) benefits to be realised from trees and woods. As Chief Executive of the Woodland Trust, I can add that the Trust calls on the government to lead the charge if we are to realise these diverse opportunities. Here’s the Trust’s response to the report.
I have been amazed by the amount of “can’t do” attitude I’ve heard through the Panel in the past year: landowners aren’t motivated to plant trees; woodland owners don’t care about their woodland; landowners don’t like access; there isn’t the land available for woodland expansion. This is not the experience of the Woodland Trust – through our Jubilee Woods project we have found hundreds of landowners who want to create woods and ¾ of them are happy to create access and community engagement in their new woods. Communities are finding small pieces of land for a copse and farmers are finding margins to pepper trees across their farm.
However, alongside the robust proposals to protect the PFE, I’m particularly pleased with the recommended target to increase England’s woodland cover to 15% by 2060. There is huge consensus that we need a more wooded England and a revitalised woodland culture. We can only achieve this if we have significantly more woodland, whilst protecting and restoring the valuable woods we have left. And woodland is unfairly distributed – parts of England have fantastic woods, other parts have very little – society would benefit in all sorts of ways if more people had accessible woods near to where they live. This will require a step-change in England’s current rate of woodland creation, but this is another challenge the Woodland Trust is willing to help with. We’ve already seen through the Jubilee Woods project how much we can do together. We believe in the art of the possible – working with landowners, communities, companies and local authorities we will create 400 new woods for the Jubilee, with the planting of 6 million trees across the UK.
The time for reflection is over – now’s the time for decisions and action.