Lords shed light on Government’s new Forestry Policy

This Wednesday saw a very welcomed debate on the Governments’ response to the Independent Panel on Forestry’s recommendations, led by the Panel’s Chair, the Rt Rev James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool. 

Bishop of Liverpool

Forests and woodlands of England can provide, as it were, a canopy of leaves through which light and shade are shed for no other purpose than the health of the nation itself.
Rt Rev James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool.

 Given that the Government’s new Forestry Policy Statement has been generally well received, and the House of the Lords often provides a more considered forum for debate than the more febrile atmosphere of the Commons, this week’s debate provided an excellent opportunity to air some of the key questions that have emerged since publication.

The debate included interventions from a range of speakers who had excellent tree credentials, including two former foresters, the Vice-President of the International Tree Foundation, a former President of the Arboricultural Association, Treasurer of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Horticulture and a number of self confessed tree enthusiasts. Whilst the format of the debate – roughly an hour with around five minutes for conclusions- doesn’t of course do full justice to a subject we all think worthy of lots of air time,  a good range of topics were covered and the all speakers received a copy of the Woodland Trust’s brief in advance.

The introduction from the Bishop of Liverpool was an inspiring statement on the benefits of trees and woods. The Bishop eloquently summarised the key findings of the Government’s response, noting that he was delighted with its content, and concluded by stating the need to retain political will and consensus to ensure that the Panel’s recommendations are fully implemented. One significant departure he made from the Panel’s report was a personal suggestion to explore linking payment for ecosystem services to utility bills. He noted that this “would show the public their worth and provide money to invest in our ecosystem infrastructure”. Labour’s spokesperson Baroness Royall, noted that she liked this concept and hoped it could be explored further.

The debate that followed demonstrated clear, cross-party support both for the Panel and the subsequent Government Policy Statement on Forestry. A number of very interesting and poignant concerns, that we share, were raised about the timetable for implementation, the impact of the Triennial Review on Forest Services and the Forestry Commission, the constitution and function of the proposed new Trust that will manage the Public Forest Estate and the impact of the reduction in CAP funding on the Government’s new target to increase woodland cover to 12%.

Defra’s spokesperson in the Lords, Lord De Mauley, paid tribute to the work of the Panel, and noted his belief that the Government’s policy response “went further by setting out a new policy approach to our forestry responsibilities based on the clear priorities of protecting, improving and expanding our woodland assets”.   Responding to the concerns raised, he noted that Defra are working on an implementation plan for the 37 actions in the policy response which will be published in later in the Spring. He declined to provide further detail on reorganisation of Forest Service and the Forestry Commission but sought to reassure Peers that “any changes strengthen our national forestry expertise”. He also provided little detail on the new Trust, but confirmed that they will be seeking stakeholder views on the body, its function and charter. On the issue of CAP funding, DeMauley noted that Government are currently negotiating the new rural development programme and will also be consulting on this matter later in the Spring.

In conclusion, we were treated to a high quality debate that pleasingly demonstrated strong support from Government and all sides of the House for the Panel’s recommendations and the policy that has emerged to deliver these. The challenge for all of us is to keep the pressure up to ensure that policy is now translated into action.

 I would like to end with the words of the Bishop, who eloquently expressed this challenge “The voices of the people showed how fertile England is for trees, the independent panel prepared the ground, the Government’s response is like a planted sapling, and the water to make it grow must be the political consensus and will to ensure that these recommendations are now translated into policy” – Rt Rev James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool.  

Steve Mulligan – Government Affairs Officer

About Nikki Williams

Head of Campaigning for the Woodland Trust
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9 Responses to Lords shed light on Government’s new Forestry Policy

  1. Pingback: - your invitation: Top Ten Questions for the Forestry Minister | Woodland Matters

  2. Mark Fisher says:

    This what the Bishop said:
    “It is a mistake to think that nature, without the symbiotic co-operation of humanity, will protect our biodiversity”

    The Bishop has pretty much swallowed the conservation industry dogma. Infuriatingly, it shows a level of ignorance of primary woodland anywhere else in the world, including Europe. It portrays the paucity of ambition for woodland in Britain. Contrast it – as just one example, amongst many others, of a better woodland vision – with the Mountain Forest Protocol of the Alpine Convention, the latter signed in 1991 by FRA, SLO, AUS, ITA, GER, LIE, CHE, Monaco & EU:

    Article 2b) Populations of hoofed animals – To restore a system of natural selection on the hoofed species, and also in the interest of protecting nature, the Contracting Parties shall encourage the reintroduction of predators, to an extent appropriate for the general needs of the region

    Article 2c) Forestry pasture farming – The safeguarding of mountain forests so that they fulfill their functions is to have priority over forest pastures. Forest pastures are therefore to be limited or, if necessary, entirely eliminated, so as to permit the renewal of forests suited to the locations, the prevention of damage to the soil and, above all, the continuation of the forest’s protective function

    Article 10 Natural forest reserves:
    – mark off natural forest reserves in a sufficient number and size, accompanied by protection secured by long-term contract
    – representative sample of all the mountain forest ecosystems
    – keep them in a way that protects their natural dynamics, generally suspending any form of exploitation

    • Steve Mulligan says:

      Many thanks for your comments Mark. I don’t think the Bishop’s statement closes the door on what you propose, however, we need to be realistic about where we are and what is achieveable with the woodland resource we have. England (which is the focus of the report) lacks both primary woodland and many components of a more natural landscape (such as large herbivores and their predators). It also suffers from a fragmented ownership and habitat structure, and the unfortunate fact that many species are using woodland as a refuge due to the loss of their preferred habitats. As a result of each of these barriers, it would be challenging to solely take a widerness approach – although this should definitely be part of the wider solution in delivering this new vision.

  3. what great comments from the bishop… I see that they have some uses!!!!

    • Steve Mulligan says:

      Agreed. He’s been an incredible advocate and leader for the cause, during a period when he was also heavily involved with the Hillsborough Inquiry. One of the good guys, definitely.

  4. Peter Kyte says:

    I am glad that the powers that be have listened to the voice of the many, rather than the few, who would wish to make a profit from our forests to the detriment of them.

    • Steve Mulligan says:

      Totally agree Peter. Also pleased to see the consensus that underpins the panel report seems to have remained intact. The hard work to implement it begins now!

  5. So good to know those in the upper chamber are prepared to give their time debating such a critical issue while those in ‘the other place’ squabble among themselves about who scored most brownie points whilst haranguing each other .

    • Steve Mulligan says:

      Thanks for your comment Maureen. I have particularly noticed that Lords debates on trees and woods always attract very passionate and knowledgable contributions from Peers.

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