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.
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