The area of new woodland created in England last year amounts to under 700 hectares that are little bigger than London’s Olympic Park. MPs says this falls far short of yearly targets needed to plant 11 million trees by 2020 and raise woodland cover from 10 to 12% by 2060. Their parliamentary report found that improving grant schemes for forestry is key to creating more woodland. And it said safeguards were needed to stop ancient forests disappearing. MPs from the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (Efra) have published a report, Forestry in England: Seeing the Wood for the Trees, calling for the government to take action to increase woodland creation.
By giving evidence, The Forestry Commission said it was necessary to “speed up” woodland creation, while the Royal Forestry Society called for a “step change” in the pace of planting. Neil Parish MP, Efra’s committee chair, said administering the forestry Countryside Stewardship Scheme was “not fit for purpose”. Under the scheme, landowners and farmers receive funding to improve woodland. However, three agencies are involved in administering the scheme, and witnesses described the process as “tortuous”, “overly complex” and “bureaucratic”. Mr. Parish said the government should instead “reintroduce a one-stop shop for forestry grants.”
And he said the government must make use of the Article 50 negotiating period to provide the sector with the reassurance that it is championing its needs in discussions on big policy issues such as Brexit, the industrial strategy, and house building. Mr. Parish further added, “Forestry must not be forgotten in a future British Agricultural Policy.”
The Efra committee made other recommendations, including:
Setting up a public register and inventory of ancient woodland. Greater use of UK timber rather than imports, including incorporating a UK-timber-first approach into English housing procurement policy. Clarifying protections for past woodland in the planning system, given concern over the rate at which ancient woodland appears to be disappearing.
The Woodland Trust has operated on many of the issues covered in the report. Beccy Speight, the Chief executive, said it clearly highlighted the barriers to progress that forestry in England faces. ”Government policy is failing forestry catastrophically and urgent action needs to be taken. Planting rates are shockingly low – we believe parts of the UK are at a real risk of deforestation.” It said given current “woeful” planting rates, the government target of planting 11 million trees by 2020 will not be hit until summer 2027.