Our Director Mark Walton supports the recent Environment Committee’s call for a greater Government commitment to forestry, and points to the Making Local Woods Work programme as a demonstration of how woods can work for everyone.
Last month the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published a scathing report into the operation of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme, and the Government’s support for the creation of woodlands and a sustainable forestry sector.
It has been five years since the Independent Panel on Forestry (IPF) made recommendations for the governance of forestry, access to forests and the long-term strategy for forestry. The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee has been reviewing the work that the Government has undertaken since the publication of the IPF Report to secure the environmental, social and economic benefits of forestry.
The Committee concludes that the current operation of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) is “not fit for purpose” and is acting as a barrier to greater woodland creation. It states that 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.
Other recommendations include:
- clear and accessible information on woodland creation and woodland cover in England should be released by the Forestry Commission every six months,
- clarification of the Government’s commitment to the 2060 12% woodland cover ambition,
- information on the number of forests and woodlands in management should be made available,
- the Government should work more closely with the forestry sector on issues such as woodland management,
- the introduction of a single grant system after the UK leaves the European Union which supports both the agriculture and forestry sectors,
- that Defra should liaise more closely with Ministers in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to ensure that the forestry sector is represented in the industrial strategy,
- Defra should work with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to introduce a UK-timber first procurement policy for English housing,
- for certainty from the Government by the conclusion of Article 50 negotiations on how the forestry research funding gap will be filled after the UK leaves the European Union.
At Shared Assets we are working on the Making Local Woods Work programme, with our partners Plunkett Foundation, Woodland Trust, Grown in Britain, Locality, Hill Holt Wood, Forestry Commission, the National Association of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Lias Y Goedwig and the Community Woodland Association.
The programme, funded by Big Lottery, is working with 50 woodland social enterprises across the UK that are committed to developing sustainable livelihoods, by managing, and creating, woodlands in ways that deliver social, economic and environmental benefits to communities. They undertake commercial forestry, producing timber and firewood, as well as running training, educational and health activities that connect people to nature, improve wellbeing and raise awareness of woods and woodland management. Whilst in England most of these enterprises are small scale, and in the early stages of development, they are demonstrating that woodlands can be managed in ways that fulfil the IDFs vision for a ‘woodland culture for the 21st century’.
We support the Committee’s call for a clear commitment to increasing woodland cover, a more straightforward grant scheme and commitment to funding of forest research. Since the failure of 2011’s attempt to sell off the public forest estate the Government has been too reticent of saying anything meaningful about the future of forestry in England.
We would add however that that the forestry sector is changing, supported by programmes like Making Local Woods Work. Woodland management is not just commercial or environmental. There is a growing social dimension that supports local economic development, education, training and health and wellbeing. Defra, DCLG and BEIS should all be taking note of the work being done across the UK by woodland social enterprises to create a 21st century woodland culture, and supporting them to make local woods work.