Britain is falling dramatically behind schedule in its attempts to plant forests to meet future timber demand and will see shortages in the future, MPs have been warned.
Stuart Goodall, chief executive of Confor, said the government’s ambition to increase woodland cover in England from 10% to 12% would mean planting around 5,000 hectares of forest or around 11m trees in the lifetime of this parliament.
Giving evidence at Westminster this week during an inquiry into forestry by the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (EFRA) committee, Goodall said inefficiency in the current grants system for forestry planting meant the country was falling seriously behind that target.
He told SM it was already certain that the UK, already the world’s third largest net importer of timber behind China and Japan, would face serious shortages of the resource in the future.
“Last year the government delivered 700 hectares of new forest which means they’re not even meeting their own very modest targets, never mind what they provide funding for, or their long-term aspiration,” he said.
Goodall warned that the government should be aiming to plant “many, many more” trees and that the country was probably harvesting more trees than it was planting, though an absence of absolute statistics on the amount of trees cut down made this hard to verify.
While the capital funding available to people wanting to plant forests was generally sufficient to attract investors, administration of planning permission was a “nightmare”, he said
“It’s incredibly bureaucratic, and takes huge amounts of time to fill in all the forms,” he said.
“If you want to build a house you can get planning permission and start laying bricks within five months. If you want to plant a forest, with all the benefits that provides for farmers and everything else, it will take you three years.”
Goodall told MPs there was a “real disconnect between policy and what’s going on out there – and there has been for the last 20 years”.
He added that the focus on forestry has been limited to narrow environmental outcomes rather than on issues such as wood production and employment.
This meant opportunities to create modern, mixed woodland of conifers and broadleaves with their benefits for carbon, jobs and wildlife had been missed.
Ironically, despite this focus on the environment, a shortage of timber in the future worldwide was likely to lead to virgin forests being harvested to make up the shortfall, he said.
In a parliamentary debate MPs from all parties urged the government to do more to meet its tree planting targets.
Chris Davies, Conservative MP and chair of the All-Party Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry (APPGF), said forestry and wood processing supported at least 79,000 low-carbon jobs and is worth nearly £2bn annually.
He said Worldwide Fund for Nature figures indicated global demand for timber, paper and energy from forests was set to triple by 2050. “The UK is going to be competing against other economies for a natural resource that we can – and should – grow more of at home,” he said.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP and vice chair of the APPGF, described the government target of planting 11m trees as “unambitious” and said closer to 200m trees would be needed.
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