‘Seeing the Wood for the Trees’

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published in March 2017. Their report makes for interesting reading:

Forests and woodlands provide many environmental, social and economic benefits to society. In order to continue to provide these benefits the creation of new woodland is essential. Private landowners clearly have the right to decide what they do with their land, however, the Government can provide incentives to landowners to use their land for forestry. We have found that woodland creation is reliant upon a well-functioning grant scheme to incentivise landowners to use their land for forestry.

[However] The current operation of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) is “not fit for purpose” and is acting as a barrier to greater woodland creation. The ambition to have 12% woodland cover—only a third of the EU average—in England by 2060 will not be achieved without a fundamental change to the “bureaucratic”, “overly complex” and “torturous” delivery system for CSS. In this Report we have called on the Government to reinstate a one-stop shop for forestry grants on day one of the UK’s exit from the European Union, which will signify a return to a well-functioning grant system. 

The press release continues:

Poor administration of the grant system [CSS is administered by three separate organisations] is acting as a barrier to greater woodland creation, with under 700 hectares of woodland created in England in 2015–16. The Committee is calling today for the Government to re-introduce a one-stop shop for forestry grants on day one of the UK’s exit from the European Union.

Timber and softwoods

The UK is the third largest importer of timber in the world, behind only Japan and China. There needs to be greater use of UK timber. The Committee says that the Government needs to incorporate a UK timber-first approach into English housing procurement policy.

Softwood availability is projected to decline after the period 2027–31. The Committee calls on the Government to introduce incentives which encourage 50:50 mixed planting of softwoods and hardwoods.

Ancient Woodland

Ancient woodland is not adequately protected in the planning system. The Committee is concerned about the rate at which irreplaceable ancient woodland appears to be disappearing. So, the Committee is calling today on the Government to implement the proposal in the Government’s Housing White Paper to clarify protections afforded to ancient woodland in the National Planning Policy Framework.

Chair’s comments

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair, Neil Parish MP, said:

“The forestry Countryside Stewardship Scheme is not fit for purpose. The period between now and the UK leaving the European Union is a golden opportunity for the Government to rethink the delivery of forestry grants and for it to prepare to reintroduce a one-stop shop for forestry grants.

The Government and Defra Ministers must use the Article 50 negotiating period to provide the sector with reassurance that it is championing its needs in discussions on big policy issues such as Brexit, the industrial strategy and housebuilding. Forestry must not be forgotten in a future British Agricultural Policy.

Research is key a component of tree pest and disease management. The UK’s exit from the European Union must not act as a barrier to tackling diseases that affect trees. This research must be adequately funded.”