Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from The Woodland Trust

  The Woodland Trust welcomes the opportunity to respond to this inquiry. The Trust is the UK's leading charity solely dedicated to the conservation of native and broadleaved woodland. We achieve our purposes by acquiring sites for planting and protection and through 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 (45,000 acres) and we have 250,000 members and supporters.

  We will address questions (a), (c), (d) and (e) posed by the Committee:

    —  Government timber procurement, the Sustainable Timber Initiative, and the development of guidance on timber procurement for local authorities.

    —  The development of the forest certification system for domestically produced timber.

    —  The development and implementation of sustainable forestry indicators.

    —  Progress made at the Ancient Forest Summit at the Convention of Biological Diversity's 6th Conference of the Parties in the Hague.

1.   Government timber procurement, the Sustainable Timber Initiative, and the development of guidance on timber procurement for local authorities

  1.1  The Woodland Trust was encouraged to hear the Prime Minister confirm the commitment to ensure that the Government would buy timber that comes from sustainable resources in his speech on the environment to WWF in March 2001 when he said: "we have already promised that as a Government we will only purchase timber from legal and sustainable sources".[4] We were also pleased to hear the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announce in her speech to the Green Alliance on 24 October 2001 that there would be "a new cross-Government group to look at how we can use Government procurement to deliver sustainable development." [5]However, we remain concerned at the slow rate of progress in this area, and the lack of adequate mechanisms to ensure that this happens.

  1.2  The only way to be certain that timber comes from sustainable sources is to ensure it comes from a certified forest. Certification (dealt with in more detail in section 2 below) is a rigorous system of independently auditing standards of forest management to verify that agreed environmental, social and economic standards are being met. We are concerned to see that certain Government departments believe that they are buying certified timber, but are not checking the credibility of contractors claims that the timber that they are providing is certified by a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accredited scheme. The claims made by Greenpeace about the purchase of timber from unsustainable sources to refurbish the Cabinet Office suggests significant work still needs to be done to ensure that there are mechanisms in place to ensure that officers check contractors' claims about providing certified material. The "chain of custody" from planting to end-use must be secure and it is necessary for purchasers to check that this is the case.

  1.3  We are also concerned that in the fallout from the Greenpeace protest it was revealed that "the contract used with the main contractor for the refurbishment of 22 Whitehall (comprising the Ripley and Kirkland Buildings) did not specify that all timber should be supplied from certifiable sustainably managed sources upon which certificates are to be made available" and only the doors and door frames were required to be from certified and renewable sources. [6]This suggests a lack of commitment within the Cabinet Office's procurement policy with something of a token gesture being made towards certification. In our view, there should have been a commitment that all of the timber used in the refurbishment was from certified sources.

  1.4  There is a need to increase the commitment of procurement officers within Government to purchasing sustainable timber. Although Green Ministers have a responsibility for ensuring that their department's procurement policy takes into account environmental concerns, we believe that this work should be given more priority which would lead to firmer commitment to the process from procurement officers. The Green Ministers should be tasked with ensuring that sustainable timber procurement is quickly given a much higher priority throughout Government, which should in turn help to speed up the process. We would like to see any Government department undertaking high profile refurbishment and new building projects to be sure that the chain of custody between forest and timber supplier can be authenticated and for this policy to be promoted to public bodies and businesses to raise the profile of timber procurement as an issue, both within and outside Government.

  1.5  The Sustainable Timber Initiative should also be rolled out to all public bodies and local government across the United Kingdom as a matter of urgency. A few councils have shown it is possible to adopt sustainable construction principles; for example, Horsham District Council is committed to build using timber from sustainable resources certified as FSC or equivalent. DTLR and DEFRA should work together with these councils to produce a best practice guide for local authorities and other public bodies on sustainable timber procurement and it should be made clear by senior figures in Government that this is not an optional add-on but a priority for all such bodies. While we recognise that Government procurement rules for public bodies cannot as they stand favour a given certification system such as FSC, it is possible to create a criteria-based policy that can ensure that some certification systems such as the Pan European Certification System (PEFC) which are less stringent can be excluded. Procurement rules can also specify those suppliers who have breached existing regulations on importing timber and exclude them.

2.   The development of the forest certification system for domestically produced timber

  2.1  We believe that the only way to determine what are 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 sustainability within the 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.

  2.2  Given that the Government has indicated that it would like to see practical steps to enhance sustainable management of forests addressed at Johannesburg, we believe that setting a target for bringing woodland in Britain into some form of FSC accredited certification would stimulate debate and action. A goal of at least 50 per cent within five-10 years would seem to an achievable target, given that approximately 35 per cent of woodland in the UK is now certified (most of this is a result of Forest Enterprise's accreditation under the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme (UKWAS)).[7] 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 provide 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 should be dependent on woodland owners achieving certification.

  2.3  The adoption of such a target at home would better equip the Government to argue for the adoption of a challenging global target for expanding the area of forests certified under schemes recognised by the FSC.

3.   The development and implementation of sustainable forestry indicators

  3.1  The Trust welcomes the development of the sustainable forestry indicators at a UK level. Clearly their development will assist UK forestry's contribution to sustainable development in the run up to Johannesburg, but the development of these indicators should not be rushed by the onset of the World Summit on Sustainable Development given their far reaching importance for the UK forestry sector.

  3.2  Although we are encouraged by a significant number of the indicators currently undergoing a second round of consultation, we believe that concerns over the quality of available data should not preclude the inclusion of indicators that have an important role to play in relation to sustainable forestry. We are especially concerned that this has happened with the indicator on "Protected areas", which featured in the first draft of indicators published last year, but is not in the version that is currently out for consultation.

  3.3  The Trust believes that the reality of environmental change, particularly climate change, means it is important that forest biodiversity indicators adopt a landscape scale perspective, rather than simply focussing at a site and species level, as is the tendency at present. We believe there is scope for improvement of the current suite of indicators in this respect.

  3.4  A strong feature of the present set of draft indicators is the expanded section on "People and forests". The Trust believes that connecting people with the natural environment is a key component of sustainable development and accordingly it is important that social forestry indicators are developed.

4.   Progress made at the Ancient Forest Summit at the Convention of Biological Diversity's 6th Conference of the Parties in the Hague

  4.1  We are disappointed at the lack of a clear direction on forestry that resulted from April's Sixth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties the 1992 Convention of Biological Diversity. We hope that as forestry has been identified as a key component of the UK's contribution to Johannesburg the Government will be committed to a more ambitious contribution by the sector to the process. The UK is a leader in certain areas when it comes to forestry, particularly certification. However, we are failing in other key areas such as protection of our ancient woodland resource (land continuously wooded since at least AD1600). The Trust and WWF-UK recently produced a report showing that we are still losing ancient woods which are our equivalent of the rainforest at an alarming rate, indeed we are aware of over 150 ancient woods currently under threat and we fear that this is just the tip of the iceberg. These woods are not adequately protected by felling licenses nor by the system of site designation as only 14 per cent of our ancient woods are covered by Site of Special Scientific Interest status. We cannot afford to continue to lose our ancient woods. Ancient woodland is irreplaceable as it contains centuries of ecological evolution and we therefore need to provide it with stronger protection. We believe that it would lend significant credibility to the UK's claim to be a leader in forest policy if the Government took concerted action to protect our own dwindling forest resource. This would allow the UK to argue the case for protection of ancient forests at a global level more strongly than we can at present.

  4.2  We believe therefore, that in the run up to Johannesburg, a key commitment that should be made by the Government is that ancient woodland will be protected from development. One practical way to signal the Government's intent to do something about the loss would be to raise sustainable development indicator S11 (Area of ancient woodland in GB) from its status as one of the Government's 150 core indicators to the status of a headline indicator in Quality of Life Counts, the strategy for measuring progress towards sustainable development in the UK. This would provide the Government with a much stronger negotiating position when it comes to recommending good practice to developing countries about the need to protect their forests by first "putting our own house in order."

5.   Conclusion

  5.1  The Government has shown a welcome willingness in principle to address the issue of the need for certification and sustainable timber procurement policies but the Trust is concerned that this enthusiasm is not reflected in practice throughout the Government's procurement systems. There is a need for education of procurement officers of the issues, and training to help them deliver on the commitment. We would also like to see moves to ensure that the "chain of custody" from planting to end-use is secure so that users can be sure that certified timber is in fact from sustainable sources.

  5.2  The UK has a lot to offer on the international stage in terms of its experience of developing UKWAS and the achievement of a relatively high level of forest certification in this country, however, there are still great strides to made in other areas. Protection of our dwindling ancient woodland resource is a pressing issue that should be addressed by Government to ensure that the UK better placed to lead by example on the world stage.

May 2002

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

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

6   Official Report, 19 April 2002: 1252W. Back

7   Woodland Trust and WWF-UK (2002) Wildwood to concrete jungle, available from the Trust, or downloadable from Back

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