As a special guest in our ‘Forests Report’ blog series, our Director of Woodland Creation shares his reaction to the Government’s promises for increasing woodland cover in England:
“For me the most eagerly anticipated part of the official Government response to the Independent Panel’s final report was going to be around woodland expansion. The Panel had recommended increasing tree cover in England from its current level of 10% to 15% by 2060 – would the Government support this level of ambition? The answer is a “maybe”. Government has accepted that 15% is a reasonable level to aim at but not within a specified time scale and have settled instead for a 12% target by 2060, equivalent to a planting rate of 5,000ha/annum.
On the one hand I find this quite disappointing in that this annual level of planting has been achieved in 9 of the 35 years between 1976 and 2010; on the other hand we haven’t achieved that level of planting since 2005 and in 2012 achieved only just over 50% of that target figure. I think it best to embrace the annual 5,000 ha target positively and show that it can be achieved – that might be a springboard for more ambition in future years?
There is much to applaud in the response around the subject of woodland expansion not least a clear recognition of the multiple benefits that an expanded cover can provide: be that for timber production, biodiversity, flood alleviation, carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, health and public access. One of the things that the Trust needs to do now is to translate that into something that will inspire individual landowners – for example, talking to farmers about the ways in which new woodland can enhance productive farming rather than seeing woodland expansion as a threat to food security.
The substantial increase in woodland creation grant rates last May have elicited an increase in interest in planting and shows the importance of finance in helping landowners take what is a very significant long term decision. It was good to see the potential recognised for new funding streams for woodland expansion – be that for carbon, water or other ecosystem services. Much more work does need to be done around this, not least in providing evidence to help quantify the benefits, and to ensure that payments for delivery of these services to the wider public go to the individual private landowners who are providing them.
The Chalara (ash dieback) outbreak has been a huge wake up call for the industry. We need to think much more about the species and provenances we plant, how, why and where we plant, and when to encourage natural regeneration. We are going to need to be much better at longer term planning to give UK nurseries the chance to source the seed we want and grow it where we want. We all need to stop assuming that everyone recognizes the range of benefits that targeted tree and woodland planting offer and do more to get out there and tell them. I was struck by ICF President Fenning Welstead’s recent Christmas message “When did you last speak to a farmer and suggest that his flock might appreciate a bit of shelter?…. Too often foresters are guilty of talking to each other and not outsiders”. We need to ensure that it is as easy as possible for landowners who want to plant to be able to do so and it was great to see in the response a recognition of the need to lighten the application process burden by identifying areas where there is a presumption in favour of planting.
Yes, Chalara and other disease threats pose significant problems for forest expansion but I still feel hugely excited by the range of opportunities that targeted woodland creation can deliver both for individual landowners and society. The Government has recognized these benefits in its response, it is now up to ourselves and the wider industry to work together with the Government and show that they can be delivered.”
John Tucker, Director of Woodland Creation
Keep the debate alive and catch up with more posts in our ‘Forests Report’ series: https://wtcampaigns.wordpress.com/category/forests-report-2/