Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The National Forest Company

  The National Forest Company (NFC) was established as a Non Departmental Public Body in April 1995. It is also incorporated as a Company Limited by Guarantee. Its founder members were the Secretary of State for the Environment (subsequently Secretary of State for Environment, Transport and the Regions) and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The single member is now the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

  The mission statement of the National Forest Company is:

    To create, through working partnerships and with community participation, a new 200 square mile multi-purpose forest for the nation in the heart of England.


  To fulfil the requirement for the organisation and performance of all NDPBs to be reviewed once every five years, the first review of the NFC had to be commenced before the end of the financial year 2000-01. The review was formally announced on 29 January 2001 by Chris Mullin MP, the then Environment Minister. The review was to be carried out by DETR with a view to completion by early summer 2001.

  The scope if the review covered:

    —  Prior options.

    —  Performance.

    —  Accountability.

    —  Delivery Mechanisms.

  Consultation with partners, stakeholders and "customers" was undertaken between February and April 2001. This covered the performance of the NFC in terms of Forest creation against targets, awareness raising, provision and promotion of new access and recreation opportunities and partnership skills. At DETR's request the NFC forwarded some 50 contact names from organisations with which the Company works. These included the Forest Local Authorities; statutory national and regional bodies, voluntary and membership organisations, partnerships of which NFC is a member; community groups, private sector companies and sponsors, and private landowners.

  In addition, the public was invited to comment via the web and press release.

  Following the Election in June the NFC was transferred to the new Department. In July a draft of the Review was circulated within DEFRA, FC and NFC for written comments and points of accuracy.

  The conclusion and response to the FMPR is now awaited.


  The National Forest Strategy, published in 1994, identified overall aims and objectives and specific targets for woodland planting. These were:

Aims and Objectives

  "The overall aims of the Forest proposal is to create and demonstrate a modern, truly multi-purpose forest that meets multiple environmental and economic objectives:

    —  To enhance and create a diverse landscape and wildlife habitat.

    —  To create a major recreation and tourism resource.

    —  To provide an alternative productive use for agricultural land in a manner that meets environmental objectives.

    —  To contribute to the national timber supply.

    —  To stimulate economic enterprise and create jobs.

    —  To stimulate community involvement and educational use of the Forest.

    —  To contribute to wider environmental objectives such as a reduction in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere."

Planting Targets

  "The strategy envisages woodland eventually covering about a third of the area compared to 6 per cent now."

  "The 33 per cent planting target will be achieved over a number of decades but the aim is to achieve 70 per cent within the first 10 years."

  This target required a total of 13,554 hectares of new planting to be completed. During the development phase of the project (1991-95) 600 hectares was achieved. Thus, when the NFC was set up in April 1995 a total of 12,954 hectares remained; 9,067 ha of which would represent 70 per cent in 10 years.

  The original Business Plan drawn up by the Development Team envisaged a steadily increasing annual planting rate rising from 308 ha in year one to over a 1,000 hectares in year five (1999-2000) and for the five subsequent years.

  In 1997 the Company took stock following the first two years of practical experience. Despite achieving 741 ha (85 per cent of target) of new land for planting, there was already a cumulative shortfall of 125 ha against target. Extrapolating trends for Years 3-10, assuming no material change in the mechanisms that the Company was to have at its disposal, it was envisaged that the annual shortfalls would widen year on year as the targets became progressively steeper.

  The Company produced its own Business Plan which was submitted to DETR in December 1997. It concluded that at the current level of resources and mechanisms at its disposal, an estimated 4,778 ha of woodland creation would be achieved in the first 10 years ie 53 per cent of the 10-year target set in the original Business Plan. Still convinced of the desirability of achieving the original targets, the Plan identified various ideas that might be explored to enable overall targets to be met. These included:

  • Minor amendments to the Tender Scheme.

  • Improved ability for the NFC to acquire land.

  • Use of Landfill Tax Credits.

  • Increase in Grant in Aid.

  • Greater commitment by partners (notably Forestry Commission/Forest Enterprise).

  • Introduction of flat-rate Woodland Grant Supplement (Locational Supplement).

      Establishment of charitable status.

      Introduction of a tax incentive scheme based on the Enterprise Investment Scheme.

      Policy reforms—relating to mineral land restoration and planning obligations.

      Changes to Lottery criteria.

  • indicates those which have, to a greater or lesser extent, been adopted.

  (In the case of Landfill Tax Credits, the NFC and its partners have been highly successful but this has not always translated into land conversion for forestry. For example, the National Forest Millennium Discovery Centre opened in 2001, known as Conkers and developed by a partnership, which included the NFC, known as the Heart of the National Forest Foundation, attracted nearly £3,000,000 from various Landfill Tax sources most of which was invested in the attraction itself).

  The Company produces an annual Corporate Plan, which is presented to the relevant Minister each summer. This covers a three year period: a review of the financial year leading up to the presentation; detailed proposals for the forthcoming year; and broad aims and objectives for the following year.

  The 1998-9 Corporate Plan was the first opportunity to introduce new more realistic targets following the Company's own Business Plan. It was agreed that 500 hectares a year represented an achievable land conversion target. Therefore, the annual planting targets and their achievement can be thus summarised:

308 ha
240 ha

  1  Due to an outstanding year for the National Forest Tender Scheme, achieving 445 ha in Round 7, the Company proposed that the target be increased to 575 ha for this one year.

  Thus land planted or committed to planting now amounts to 3,100 hectares with a further 575 ha anticipated this financial year. Maintaining this rate of progress, it is estimated that by the end of year 10 the total woodland created will amount to between 5,175 ha and 5,400 or between 50-53 per cent towards the 70 per cent Year 10 planting target. Already tree cover has more than doubled from the original 6 per cent and by Year 10 it should have reached just over half towards the desired ultimate 33 per cent.


  In addition to tree planting and site creation specified performance indicators and targets in each Corporate Plan include:

    —  Woodland brought into management.

    —  Linear access created and open access sites.

    —  Sport and recreation facilities created.

    —  Habitat creation/management.

    —  Hedgerows planted and brought into management.

    —  Mineral and derelict land restored.

    —  Area achieved through Tender Scheme.

    —  Land acquired through grant aid or direct purchase.

    —  Tourism and marketing.

    —  Planning policy documents commented on.

    —  Mineral/derelict land plans and major Forest related applications commented upon.

    —  Fundraising—bids and donations/sponsorship.

    —  Arts, community and education activity.

    —  Company finance and administration.


Public Access

  The majority of the 3,100 ha of land now committed to Forest sites is privately owned yet 73 per cent offers public access with a further 12 per cent offering access when the sites are fully developed.

  Walks, trails, cycle ways and horse riding and other recreational opportunities are promoted by leaflet and website.

Sustainable Development

  The National Forest is contributing to 27 of the UK Sustainable Development Indicators ranging from expansion of woodland cover, public access and improving the health of the population to reversing the decline in woodland and farmland birds.

Nature Conservation

  735 hectares of Forest land is dedicated to nature conservation. The Forest also has its own Biodiversity Action Plan, now in its third year, defining those species and habitats it can contribute to the UK Rio Summit commitments.

Land restoration

  890 hectares of former mineral workings and derelict land have been restored to woodland, water features and open land for recreation.

Inward investment

  £35 million of inward investment, plus £95.8 million leverage, has been attracted into the area via regeneration partnerships involving the Forest. This will generate some 500 new jobs.

Rural Economy

  Investment through the unique National Forest Tender Scheme for woodland creation amounts to £13 million between 1995 and 2001, bringing about diversification of land use and farm businesses and strengthening of the rural economy—and creating 44 new jobs and protecting a further 15.


  The growing range of visitor attractions, from stately homes to new woodland sites, is already attracting 5.7 million visitors a year (1999 figs) to the area, spending £128 million and sustaining 3,680 jobs.

Community participation

  At least 7,000 people directly participate in Forest activities each year. In the last year alone there were 205 National Curriculum linked school visits involving nearly 8,000 pupils to special education facilities in Forest visitor centres.

Research and Monitoring

  The progress of the Forest and its impact as it develops is being systematically monitored and recorded. A limited research programme is also undertaken.

28 November 2001

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