Monday, December 11, 2023
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The National Wood Strategy for England has been launched at Confor’s policy conference at Westminster – and its lead author hopes it becomes redundant within a year. Tom Barnes said that the real measure of success of the Strategy would be the delivery of its aims through collaboration between industry, UK Government, forestry agencies, investors and environmental organisations.
Mr Barnes highlighted plans to prepare a Strategy at Confor’s 2022 conference, and handed out hard copies exactly a year later – at Green Growth: Why Wood is the Missing Low-Carbon Link. The Strategy is a blueprint for “planting, growing, harvesting and processing conifer and broadleaf trees in England” and aims to put timber production at the heart of policymaking.
Mr Barnes, who co-wrote the document with Confor Deputy CEO Andy Leitch, said the key message from the Strategy was ‘clarity’ – why do we want to plant trees? This included clarity (and honesty) about the fact that if the UK wants to grow more of its own timber, it must grow more softwood – and therefore plant far more fast-growing conifer trees.
He praised the “considerable input” of the Forestry Commission, and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), saying: “The previous Minister [Trudy Harrison MP] and the Forestry Commission have been consistently and openly supportive of productive forestry in the last year.”
Earlier, new Forestry Minister Rebecca Pow MP voiced her commitment to the industry, saying: “The timber industry is critically important and something we need to give more focus to. We need woodland creation of all types, delivering for the economy, nature and the environment… including productive mostly conifer woodlands which absorb carbon faster and contribute to the green economy through timber. This is why we will continue to support the planting of well-designed, mixed and conifer-dominated woodlands.”
The Minister welcomed the publication of the National Wood Strategy, the challenge from industry in it and the opportunities for collaboration.
Mr Barnes said the Strategy had to be seen in the context of rising global demand for wood (and future wood shortages) and the statutory target of increasing UK woodland cover to 16.5% by 2050. He stressed that the status quo simply wasn’t enough and highlighted the 5 Cs of the “action-oriented” Strategy: Clarity; Consistency; Capital; Communication; and Collaboration.
If the Strategy had to come down to one word, it was ‘clarity’, he said, including clarity about where timber came from: “If we want more timber, we need to grow more softwood, and if we want more softwood, we need more conifer trees.” As a result, the Strategy calls for clear targets for creating wood-producing forests, clear and consistent support for creating those forests – and better communication of the need to plant woodlands for timber production as well as climate change and biodiversity.
Stuart Goodall, CEO of Confor, agreed with this sentiment and reflected on what he hopes will be seen in future as a landmark event: “A year ago the then forestry minister Trudy Harrison gave us hope that productive forestry and home-grown wood would be brought ‘in from the cold’ and be recognised as an important part of England’s forestry policy and ambitions to tackle climate change and support a strong, green rural economy. A year on, and we can see how that political leadership has created a new sense of optimism. The Wood Strategy, the actions taken by Defra and Forestry Commission to improve the tree planting process and make it inclusive are strongly welcomed.
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