Strong consensus reached on the future of England’s forests

Last night’s extremely well attended Woodland Trust fringe event, ‘Where next for England’s forests?’ at the Conservative Party Conference, brought very strong consensus from the panel and delegates for Government to fully adopt the recommendations of the Independent Panel on Forestry (IPF). In particular there was very strong support for the adoption of the Panel’s woodland creation target, to increase England’s woodland cover to 15% by 2060, and for Government to do much more to protect and restore our ancient woods.

Image: WTPL/H.Allison  (click to enlarge)
A packed out room at the Trust’s fringe event.
(Panel L-R: CEO of ConFor Stuart Goodall, Guy Opperman MP, Woodland Trust President Clive Anderson, Rory Stewart OBE MP, Woodland Trust Chief Executive Sue Holden)

The event, chaired by the Trust’s President, Clive Anderson, brought together a panel which demonstrated a real passion for woods and trees and a very lively and engaging debate ensued.

Rory Stewart OBE MP, referring to the Independent Panel Report’s findings as “highly intelligent”, called for future Conservative policy to protect woodland, ensure public access and be economically viable.  He argued that real leadership was needed to ensure success in seeing the panel report fully adopted by Government, at a time where the broad emphasis of Government was on economic growth. He noted the urgent need to engage “someone who matters in the Whitehall machine” with “the right kind of resources” to promote drive through positive change.
Guy Opperman MP, a passionate advocate of forests and a highly vocal opponent of the Government’s thwarted plans to sell off the Public Forest Estate, called the IPF report “long anticipated, well worth reading and very constructive”. He emphasised the need to frame dialogue with Government as solution-focused in order to be successful in influencing policymakers. He also noted the need to encourage and incentivise Local Authorities to plant more, and the right sort of trees. 
The Woodland Trust’s CEO, Sue Holden talked about the importance of retaining a public forest estate that meets society’s needs. She noted that the IPF report represented a great opportunity for the Conservative Government to listen to the public and seize the environmental and economic potential of trees and called for the IPF recommendations to be “adopted wholesale” as it was underpinned by a very strong public consensus and support across the environmental and forestry sectors.  She called for Government to show leadership on this issue, cautioning that Government should not pursue economic growth at any cost and argued for the need for Government to unlock the economic potential of forests and trees.

Stuart Goodall of the Confederation of Forest Industries (ConFor) called for a “longer term vision for forestry” to ensure it would not be negatively impacted by the political cycle.  He welcomed the partnership that existed around the Report and supported calls for stronger leadership to help ensure Government adopted the Panel’s recommendations.

Steve Mulligan, government affairs officer


About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
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14 Responses to Strong consensus reached on the future of England’s forests

  1. Philippa Pountney says:

    I strongly support the intention to increase England’s woodland cover by extending existing woodland to produce coppiced zones where previously they did not exist. These then could provide an ethically sound and sustainable source of timber. However, I am disturbed by the many references to the economic potential of trees in our exisiting woodlands, having recently witnessed more than 30 ancient oaks being extracted, chopped up and sold (very lucratively) for wood burners or hardwood floors etc. Hardwood is now a very valuable asset and I fear for our ancient trees which may now be targeted as a source of income.

    It is unfortunate that Forestry Commission converted over 40% of our ancient woodland into pine forests, but at least these non-native trees were fast growing and produced an ethical and sustainable source of timber. It would seem that ‘Where next for Englands forests’ reflects the ‘Keepers of Time’ policy produced by Defra and the Forestry Commission and quite clearly gives the green light to harvesting ancient trees that have grown naturally for many hundreds of years. Many of our forests and woodlands are publically owned and therefore we must ask for full local consultation if our trees are to be protected for future generations.

    • thehutts says:

      The Forestry Commission are now trying to reverse the past errors of their ways by returning ‘Planted Ancient Woodlands’ (PAWs) to native woodland.

  2. thehutts says:

    I agree with David Blake – where is the money going to come from for cash strapped councils to fund tree planting – schools and other services have to come first when budgets are tight.

    Here in Northumberland there is some progress in persuading farmers to plant trees along river banks but we have the most beautiful ancient Alders along our upland streams and they are under threat from Phytophora –$FILE/fcin6.pdf. The research of the Forestry Commission is vital to protect what trees we have!

    I also support the view that we need the right trees in the right place. We have large tracts of blanket bog (another Carbon Sink) in the uplands of Northumberland and these should not be planted with trees. The great expanse of Kielder forest means that many of the neighbouring bogs are suffering from encroachment from self seeded conifers.


  3. Mark Fisher says:

    I would echo David Blake – where is the evidence for that consensus? Much of the IPF report is unacceptable, as is being communicated to the “development team” in the FC and DEFRA. The cosy relationships of the IPF have just masked what is the real public will.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Hello Mark, the blog was talking about the consensus in the room. Unlike a lot of fringes at party conferences these days, it was mainly party members, and their level of interest was especially encouraging given major focus of conference on economic growth. Out in the public domain, we have also encountered consensus across all sectors behind the report’s recommendations, including NGOs and campaigners, showing it is very acceptable to the people who will deliver it. The job for us and others is to persuade Govt to act on that.

  4. Pingback: Strong consensus reached on the future of England’s forests | Conservation & Environment |

  5. It is vital that people remember that this “consensus” has been reached amongst a rather select group – people attending the Conservative Conference who care about trees and woodlands. Meanwhile, back at the coal face the Woodland Trust’s advisers and all the others that I work with from the private, charitable and public sector are finding it very hard indeed to persuade people to plant more trees, let alone woodlands. In addition, a lot of the long established woodland projects in the south of England have either come to a halt or are about to do so, as their local authority support disappears. Where are all these new woodlands going to be? Will they replace heathland and moorland? Will they replace upland pastures or permanent grasslands? Answer “No!” to those three, so that leaves agricultural land. Arable agriculture is making money – real money and not the pennies you get from trees. The red meat sector is doing well (mostly), certainly much better than forestry. Nobody in their right economic mind would convert good agricultural land to woodland. We are working with just about anyone to get woodlands and trees planted around rivers. This should be an easy win as there’s lots of interest from the fisheries lobby, good science from Foerest Research, CEH et al, and cash from the Water Framework Directive and other pots to support the work; but it’s still REALLY unpopular. Getting the policy environment right is one thing, but that’s the easy part, geting the trees in the ground is another thing entirely.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Thanks David, some useful reminders of the challenges for increasing woodland cover in the right places. The Forestry Commission are consulting on a draft Woodland Potential Calculator ( to help local determination of where trees could be planted without losing other valuable habitat or good agricultural land. The North-west Forestry Forum ($FILE/OurFutureCanopy.pdf) have an even more ambitious target to double woodland cover in their region.

    • Swainsje says:

      While we may not be able to plant trees on crop lands, a pasture can have trees in the centre in a parkland type scenario which also provides some shelter for the livestock in the fields. And letting standards grow along hedge lines by carefully tagging the trees so the hedge cutters know which ones to miss can also provide more tree cover and does not remove any acreage.

  6. Pingback: Strong consensus reached on the future of England’s forests | Wildlife and Environmental Campaigning |

  7. Roderick Leslie says:

    As Sue pointed out, unlocking the potential of our forests is the direct opposite to pursuing economic growth at any cost: where else is there the opportunity to benefit wildlife, create new jobs and green the economy all at the same time ? And thanks, Sue, for your very clear support for retaining the public forests that meet society’s needs.

  8. thehutts says:

    Glad to see our local MP (Guy Opperman) is supporting the Public Forest Estate. It is a shame that the FC run visitor centre at Kielder Castle has probably been closed as of last month. It was a great draw for the Kielder Osprey and Red Squirrel enthusiasts with its live wildlife cams. Sally

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