Just how much will forestry cuts cost?

Our efforts to persuade the government that the principle of investing in forests is critical to the long term well being and health of both society and the wider environment will continue but the Spending Review results will be announced on June 26. Indeed over the past few days it seems that Defra has already agreed its budget with the Treasury over the next three years. Public benefits should be paid for by public money but this principle is going to be harder to argue in the years ahead.

We asked Rod Leslie, a member of Our Forests and an independent environmental consultant for his views on how forests can pay their way in future in the light of a tougher funding climate. Here are his thoughts – do you agree?

“Woodland Trust followers know what woods are worth and they know its about much more than money. However, in the current political environment there are so many good causes crying out for money that its hard to get to the top of the queue – especially when Defra, the Government Department responsible for forestry is seen by politicians as low priority and a sitting duck for further cuts.

But there is another side to the story and it is at the heart of the Government’s objectives: growth and jobs, already largely funded through the Government’s own Renewable Heat Incentive scheme. Since 2007 the Government’s Woodfuel Strategy has charted the way to reduce our carbon emissions whilst benefiting the economy and the environment. Our unmanaged woodlands are just the opportunity Defra needs to prove its credentials as a ‘Growth Department’. With nearly 1 million tonnes available every year, forever, we could be heating the equivalent of 250,000 homes from a resource that is already there. Estimates for the new, green business that could be unblocked vary from £200 to £500m every year, and the £800m already allocated to the RHI could unlock an estimated £5 billion of new investment. These are big figures even before you take into account that new jobs would come in some of our most fragile rural economies and where the wood is neatly matches the places where there is no mains gas.

Ancient woodland coppice in spring

Ancient woodland coppice in spring

But of course, you can’t, we are told, have business without environmental destruction. Well you can, in fact you can have business and environmental gain and skilled, careful management of more of our woods must be the very best example: the biodiversity of England’s woods is suffering and the main cause is lack of management – unmanaged woods get darker and there aren’t the fresh young habitats coppicing has provided species like Heath Fritillary and Nightingales down the centuries that our Ancient Woods have thrived.

The nightingale often favours coppice woodland

The nightingale often makes a home within coppice woodland

New management for woodfuel and timber has every prospect of reversing the disastrous downward trend our woodland birds, butterflies and flora face today and they will make more money for the Government than yet more cuts to forestry budgets! 

It’s now 3 years since this Government came to power and in that time it has done nothing practical whatsoever to realise this incredible opportunity. Already I estimate their inaction has probably cost a minimum of £300m of new business and between 2 and 4,000 new jobs, far costlier than any savings the cuts have made. Even now Defra is wasting time debating its own organisation with the prospect of losing the focus for woodland management altogether if it merges the Forestry Commission and Natural England. Yes, the Government may have been wounded by the forest sales fiasco but in the interests of the country rather than party politics it is now time they started working for the nation and not their own interests. We now need real leadership, not politics. 

So what needs to be done? Despite the prospects, we face today a clear case of market failure: England’s woods are small and scattered, with thousands of owners. 500,000 hectares, nearly half of all England’s woodlands, including a huge number of precious ancient woodlands, have not been managed for decades. Finding and engaging all those owners is beyond a private sector starting up lots of small, new businesses – that is the task of a new, revitalised and resourced Forestry Commission which, with support from DECC and Defra must be given the task of bringing at least 10,000 hectares of woodland back into management every year – and at the same time returning far more money to the nation than further cuts can ever hope to achieve.”

Roderick Leslie, Factor 

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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8 Responses to Just how much will forestry cuts cost?

  1. Michele Rist says:

    I am concerned about any woodland area being cut down. I have just heard of a possible very large building plan to cut ancient woodland on outskirts of Walkern Herts where badgers, deer and many forms of wildlife roam freely. If this goes ahead it will join a huge housing site up and swallow woodland and fields joining villages to the large metropolis of Stevenage. We have water shortage of River Beane now, narrow roads and too many vehicles, so what chance will wildlife have. Our trees are necessary for many reasons.

    • Oliver Newham says:

      Hello Michele, Thanks very much for letting us know about this, it would be really good to get some more details. If you are able to phone 01476 581111 and ask for myself or someone in the campaigning team, that would be appreciated. Alternatively we can be reached at campaigning@woodlandtrust.org.uk

  2. I was the librarian to the BTCV in Gateshead/Newcastle in 1984/85 and also went out hedge-laying and tree planting and coppicing on the Blagdon estate of Lord Ridley and in Co. Durham, so I know how valuable well managed woods and hedgerows are.
    Lord Ridley gave us work and appreciated our efforts.
    Jennifer Brown

  3. Mike Bentley says:

    Rod is right, focus on jobs and growth. With the current demand and price for fuelwood there has never been a better time to sell the idea of management to a woodland owner. The wood supply chain is devoloping quite successfully, largely due to small privately owned businesses, some of whom have already benefitted from publicly funded grants. The bit that now needs more help is unlocking the timber from the woodland – getting the message to the owner or tennant that the timber is sought after; the exercise is financially sound; the operation will be carried out competently and a belief in the additional benefits that will result in the woodland being managed. That’s where future funding should be concentrated and by far the largest single group of owners of undermanaged woodland are farmers.

  4. alvecotewood says:

    The Grown in Britain initiative is starting to address some of these concerns, but I agree, very little is being done, and access to free advice and funding to help owners bring woodlands back into management is under threat. Another real problem is the lack of knowledge among planning departments in local councils, who frequently slap a tree protection order on woodland. This can protect it against development and abuse, but in areas where development is very unlikely it can be very counter-productive, making it much harder for owners to manage the wood. Councils see cutting down trees as “bad”, whereas in reality woodland management relies on coppicing, and sustainable cutting of trees to refresh their habitat. Councils need input from professionals so they can distinguish between owners who wish to harm and destroy, and owners who want to manage sustainably. That advice could come from the Forestry Commission or local forestry officers, both subject to cuts in budgets and jobs. How are we going to deliver the recommendations of the Independent Forestry Panel if the infrastructure is being grabbed from beneath our feet?

  5. Peter Kyte says:

    Woods can be both fun and spiritually refreshing as well. They can, if managed properly be big revenue earners as well and just for burning wood or paper pulp. How about decent furniture from Oak and Beech, rather than IKEA flatpacks. Proper sustainable development does not have to be a loss maker.

  6. Jerry Langford says:

    In Wales the potential feels a lot more more promising, Our Government Minister says he is sure we can have both business and environmental protection and Natural Resources Wales, the new body that has subsumed FCWales, is tasked with delivering that. There are well considered forestry proposals going forward for European funding through the Wales Rural Development Plan, both for environmental and forest business measures. The Welsh Government also regards its substantial forest estate as a valuable asset and has committed itself to major woodland expansion.

  7. Jim Clark says:

    Woods aren’t bankers, newspaper owners or millionaire donaters to party funds, so of course they are not considered

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