Select Committee on Environmental Audit Third Report


Memorandum from The Woodland Trust


  1. The Woodland Trust welcomes this opportunity to submit evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee on the subject of how far the Government pursued its commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development within the Comprehensive Spending Review.

  2. These comments are delivered from the perspective of the United Kingdom's foremost conservation organisation solely dedicated to the conservation of native and broadleaved woodland. The Trust achieves its purposes through a combination of acquiring woodland and sites for planting (on average more than a site a week) and through wider advocacy of the importance of protecting ancient woodland, enhancing its biodiversity, expanding woodland cover and increasing public enjoyment. We own some 944 sites across the United Kingdom, all of which are managed with a view to achieving a balance between enhancing biodiversity and public enjoyment.

  3. The comments which follow will focus upon the Forestry Commission outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review.


  4. The Woodland Trust wholeheartedly agrees with the target which the Forestry Commission has been set of managing sustainably Britain's forests in line with the core principles adopted at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. We are also pleased to note the injection of £94.5 million into the Commission over the next three years. We note that this has had the welcome effect of allowing the Commission to end the programme of large scale sales of its woods and forests for the foreseeable future. This is a particularly positive development in our view since it will ensure that public access to thousands of hectares of forests is maintained. It will also ensure that Forestry Commission land is able to continue to set a leading example of how public access to forests can be sustained without compromising timber production and key benefits such as wildlife conservation.

  5. However, and of particular relevance to this inquiry, the Woodland Trust is keen to understand more about the Treasury's demand that the Commission generate a higher rate of return from its commercial forestry enterprises. "Improving the return to the taxpayer as the forest estate matures", {Modern Public Services for Britain: Investing in Reform. No. 1472: Forestry Commission} should not be done at the expense of sound environmental decisions. Similarly, the target of providing "better accountability of decisions on environmental outputs" is somewhat ambiguous and conveys the impression that environmentally based decisions could be squeezed on cost grounds.

  6. We understand that the rate of return from forestry does incorporate an element for non-timber values but we would welcome reassurance that there will be no detrimental impact in relation to the current programme of forest restructuring. For example, pressures to fell at the economic rotation age and to restock ancient woodland sites with conifers could have cumulative effects upon the biodiversity of Forest Enterprise holdings. This is significant since ancient woodland is the habitat most representative of original, natural, stable conditions in the UK and as such is home to more vulnerable extinction prone species than any other habitat in the UK. This is supported by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan {HMSO 1994} which identifies that broadleaved woodland supports almost twice as many UK BAP species as any other habitat. In the light of this, we therefore have reservations as to whether this particular element of the Comprehensive Spending Review will prove beneficial to the environment.

November 1998

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