Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from The Woodland Trust

  The Woodland Trust welcomes this opportunity to respond to the above inquiry. The comments that follow are delivered on behalf of the United Kingdom's leading charity solely dedicated to the conservation of native and broadleaved woodland. We achieve our purposes through a combination of acquiring woodland and sites for planting and through wider advocacy of the importance of protecting ancient woodland, enhancing its biodiversity, expanding woodland cover and increasing public enjoyment. We own over 1,100 sites across the country, covering around 18,000 hectares and we have 250,000 members and supporters.

  We see our role in relation to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) as having two dimensions. Firstly, we are acting as an NGO seeking to persuade the Government chiefly through DEFRA and the Forestry Commission that there are strategies, targets and actions upon which Government alone can take the lead and which should form the basis of the Government's own contribution. Secondly, we also see ourselves as offering a direct contribution to sustainable forestry and the Local Agenda 21 progress through the delivery of a series of projects since 1992 and the development of new initiatives in the spirit of WSSD mainly linked to our "Living Woods" campaign which is to be launched within the next eighteen months.

  Reflecting the UK only remit of the Woodland Trust this response focuses largely upon questions "a" and "c" as identified by the Committee below and whilst addressing the general policy background it pays particular attention to the forestry sector:

    —  How the UK is formulating its own contribution to the World Summit, the nature of this contribution, and the range of stakeholders involved;

    —  The extent to which the UK Government has adequately monitored UK progress on sustainable development and the issues mapped out in Agenda 21 since 1992 as part of its preparations for the Summit.

  We believe that the Earth Summit in Johannesburg should be about delivering the practicalities of sustainable development through concrete action and the setting of challenging targets rather than simply focussing heavily upon progress since Rio although there are undoubtedly positive messages to be communicated in this respect. We therefore believe that the title of this inquiry—"Words into Deeds"—is a particularly appropriate one. Forestry is a sector where sustainability has been a key issue over the past 10 years and the Trust looks forward to it having a significant profile at Johannesburg.


  The UK's record since the Rio Earth Summit in terms of its internal addressing of sustainable development is one which shows encouraging structural progress both from a general policy standpoint and from a specifically forestry perspective. Notable successes here have included the development of the UK sustainable development strategy and its accompanying indicators, (though it is important that a distinct hierarchy does not develop between the so-called headline indicators and the other 147 national indicators since amongst the latter are included such crucial indicators of the UK's sustainable development record as "Area of ancient semi-natural woodland".[5])

  Other positive steps have included the establishment of the Sustainable Development Commission, the sustainable development unit, the National Assembly for Wales's duty to promote sustainable development, the Green Ministers Group, the publication of the UK Climate Change Strategy, the creation of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee and the subjecting of departmental spending reviews to sustainability assessments.

  Less evident however is the extent to which these welcome structural changes are actually shaping policy change and the Environmental Audit Committee has itself highlighted numerous areas where progress has been slow in this regard. Whilst the Prime Minister has made two prominent speeches—in autumn 2000 and spring 2001 addressing sustainable development it is essential that political will and leadership are continually provided to ensure that sustainable development is central to Government policy and enjoys a higher public profile. Greater clarity is required for example, as to the role of the Sustainable Development Commission and its overall function within the policy making process.

  Similarly, it is disappointing that the Prime Minister's target for all local authorities in the UK to have LA21 strategies in place by the end of 2000 was not met and this raises questions as to how far the message of the importance of sustainable development is reaching. Greater public engagement with the issues surrounding climate change is especially necessary if the UK is to deliver upon a Climate Change Strategy which contains much that is encouraging and we believe that initiatives such as the Woodland Trust's phenology project in conjunction with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has much to contribute here in the spirit of the `think global, act local' principle.

  Further work is also clearly needed to address the crossover of the three strands of sustainable development and ensure that policy formulation and implementation properly takes all three dimensions into account. It is especially important that the Town and Country Planning System is both shaped by and seeks to deliver, sustainable development in its broadest sense, and the present Planning Green Paper represents cause for concern in this regard. Whilst the Paper makes early reference to sustainable development it is not borne out in the detail of the paper.


  Much has happened in the intervening years since the Rio Earth Summit to place the UK at the heart of forestry policy innovation and this is to the credit of successive UK Governments since 1992. The birth of forest certification for example is clearly one such area which was unknown in 1992 and dogged persistence has helped to shape a mutually recognised system of certification within the UK. We also warmly welcome the development of sustainable forestry indicators which are currently being circulated for a second round of consultation. However from an implementational point of view we are concerned as to the extent to which the UK is continuing to lose ancient woodland—the nation's richest habitat for wildlife, with 232 species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, and the lack of up to date records of its whereabouts or systems for the monitoring of loss. This has been the subject of recent research jointly commissioned by the Woodland Trust and WWF and represents a strong example of an area where words need to be matched by deeds.[6]


  We share the wider concern that there has been insufficient emphasis placed upon public engagement with the conference during the crucial preparatory stages. Whilst we welcome the manner in which NGOs such as ourselves have been able to contribute to the formulation of UK preparations, we believe that greater efforts are needed to highlight the importance of the WSSD to the media, the business community and the general public. It is also important that DEFRA works closely with other key departments such as the Cabinet Office, DTLR, DFID, Education and Skills and DTI in shaping the UK's contribution and its participation in the inter-governmental preparatory meetings.


  The Woodland Trust is keen that the UK's contribution at Johannesburg should reflect domestic issues as well as the international dimension of forestry. Whilst the UK is the shop window of much that is innovative in forestry policy development, we should also be acutely aware that the UK must have its own house in order for it to be able to urge other countries especially in the developing world to achieve greater progress. The international leadership role to which the UK aspires means that practices at home are rendered all the more important.

  We suggest that the following five initiatives should be seen by Government as appropriate to the spirit of the Summit and should be adopted as part of the UK's forestry sector's contribution:

1.  Commitment to procurement of sustainably produced wood products by all public bodies

  Procurement of timber from sustainable and legally logged sources by Government is a commitment already made by the Prime Minister in his speech on the environment to WWF in March 2001. "We have already promised that as a Government we will only purchase timber from legal and sustainable sources".[7] We were also pleased to hear Mrs Beckett, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announce in her speech to the Green Alliance on 24 October 2001 "a new cross-Government group to look at how we can use Government procurement to deliver sustainable development."[8]

  We would like to see this welcome initiative extended to all public bodies and to local government too across the United Kingdom.

2.  Increased support and targets for certification

  The best way to determine what are legal and sustainable sources of timber is through independent certification.

  Certification is one of only a very few mechanisms which can deliver sustainable development in a meaningful and verifiable manner. It not only delivers real sustainability within specific operations of the forest sector but it also ensures that forestry's contribution to other areas of environmental, social and economic policy such as urban regeneration, rural development, integration of forestry with agriculture, health and welfare, is based on sustainable foundations.

  Given that the Government has indicated that it would like to see practical steps to enhance sustainable management of forests addressed at the conference, we believe that a target for bringing woodland in Britain into some form of certification would stimulate debate and action. A goal of at least 50 per cent within 5-10 years would seem to be a suitable target given that approximately 35 per cent of woodland in the UK is now certified, though most of this is a result of Forest Enterprise's accreditation under the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS). Crucial to achieving this will be that the current review of support for management of existing woods in England and the equivalent processes in Wales and Scotland provides the necessary redirection of resources to support the costs of certification for private woodland owners and enable new entrants to benefit from certification. It would also be worth considering the extent to which government support for woodland might be dependent on woodland owners achieving certification.

  The adoption of such an example-setting target at home should then equip the Government to confidently argue for the adoption of a challenging global target for expanding the area of forests certified under schemes recognised by the Forest Stewardship Council.

3.  Forest Protection

  The issue of protected forest areas was highlighted by the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 when the Biodiversity Convention and the Forest Principles agreed a reference to the protection of areas of high biodiversity value. In the intervening years forest protection has remained a crucial issue and in 1996 WWF launched its Forests for Life strategy which included a recommendation that countries should establish an representative ecological network of protected areas covering at least 10 per cent of the world's forest areas by 2000.

  In 2000 a report entitled "Protected forests areas in the UK" produced jointly by Forestry Commission and WWF was produced to inform the Government's response to this 10 per cent target and contribute to other international forestry processes. This report attempted to identify the extent of the UK's protected forest areas, its representativeness of woodland types and the effectiveness of the mechanisms intended to protect them. While the report highlighted the difficulty of defining "protection" and the diversity of measures which offer some form of protection, the report concluded that the fundamental legal protection for undesignated sites only regulates tree felling and a new regulation is needed to prevent any ancient or semi-natural woodland being converted to other land use without express permission.

  The significance of ancient woodland in a UK woodland biodiversity context is paramount. It is our richest habitat and one which has been reduced in area and fragmented in nature over the past fifty years. We therefore believe that an appropriate time for Government to make a commitment to the protection of the remaining resource would be as a major contribution to WSSD. As noted above, the area of ancient woodland is a sustainable development indicator itself and the Government has already stated its aim in the UKSDS to halt the trends of decline in area and increasing fragmentation of ancient woodland. As the recent report published by the Woodland Trust and WWF, From wild wood to concrete jungle shows, we are continuing to lose ancient woodland to built development and we need a more up to date and accurate inventory of its whereabouts which is easily accessible to all planning authorities, a system to monitor where losses have taken place and most importantly we need clear national planning guidance to local authorities to ensure its protection. We therefore seek a commitment to mechanisms to prevent any further loss of ancient woodland in the UK. This would fit neatly with the emphasis of the Johannesburg summit upon "turning plans into action" and better equip the UK to provide leadership on the issue of global forest stewardship by exemplifying the principle of "think global, act local".

4.  Targeted expansion of woodland cover in the UK

  The protection of remaining woods and forests is by itself insufficient to allow forests to function in a sustainable way in the future, given the accelerating pace of environmental change. We were pleased for example to note that the Prime Minister in his speech to WWF in March 2001 identified the planting of broad-leaf forests as a method of tackling the increasing pressures on biodiversity in the UK.[9] We therefore believe that a carefully targeted programme of woodland expansion is necessary as part of the forest protection strategy outlined above but also to provide the social, environmental and economic benefits of forests throughout the UK which is one of the least wooded countries in the European Union.

5.  A comprehensive review of progress since 1992

  Finally, we feel that an audit of progress towards sustainable forestry in the UK since 1992 would be a helpful addition to the Government's contribution to the WSSD and this should cover all three elements of sustainable forestry—economic, social and environmental.

February 2002

5   DETR (1999), Quality of Life Counts, indicator S11. Back

6   Woodland Trust and WWF (2001): From wildwood to concrete jungle. Back

7   Rt Hon Tony Blair MP, "Environment; the Next Steps"-Speech to WWF conference, 6 March 2001. Back

8   Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP, speech to ERM/Green Alliance Environment Forum, 24 October 2001. Back

9   Rt Hon Tony Blair Mp, op cit. Back

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