Natural Environment White Paper

Written evidence submitted by Confor (NEWP 42)

What actions are required across Government Departments, from local government and by civil society to deliver the White Paper’s proposals to grow a green economy and reconnect people with nature?

1. Forestry is best placed to help deliver a transition to a low-carbon economy, while promoting the environment and helping people to reconnect with nature.

2. A greater use of wood is the easiest way for Government to achieve its greenhouse gas emission targets. Sustainably grown wood is an endlessly renewable and natural resource. It can be recycled into new timber products and at the end of its life burnt to produce renewable energy.

3. Producing timber requires significantly less energy than any other mainstream building material. For example, producing steel requires 24 times the energy needed to produce wood; while concrete can give off 140 kg CO2 per cubic metre produced. Moreover, as they grow, trees are producing the oxygen we breathe – almost three quarters of a tonne of oxygen for every cubic metre’s growth.

4. Simply by increasing the UK’s forest cover from 13 to 17 per cent we could, by 2050, abate up to 10 per cent of our national CO2 emissions, while producing further supplies of wood for low-carbon construction and renewable energy.

5. The UK wood industry has seen substantial growth over the last two decades, accompanied by a rapid expansion of domestic sawmilling and panel board manufacturing. More than £1.6 billion has been invested in the UK wood industry in the last 15 years and over the last two decades the numbers employed in forestry across the UK has risen from 34,000 to around 170,000.  Confor estimates that the value of this growth has been to displace the equivalent of £1 billion of imports annually, with further growth available.

6. The emerging woodfuel market also offers considerable opportunities, if it develops locally and focuses on heat and combined heat and power. It has been estimated that the direct Gross Value Added contribution from woodfuel production will rise from £10.2m in 2010 to £40m by 2020. In addition, it is suggested that the number of direct employees in woodfuel production will increase from 256 full‐time equivalents (FTEs) in 2010 to 782 FTEs in 2020. CEBR (2010)

7. Developing the market for wood, and planting new forests, will also benefit wildlife and people. Well managed woods and forests are home to an amazing range of flora and fauna, and provide valued places for recreation.

8. However, we are currently missing a massive opportunity. In England, there is a large area of unmanaged forest – almost 500,000 hectares, or around 45 per cent of the total forest area. These forests are not delivering their potential for nature and society. A study by government countryside agencies in 2005 identified a lack of management as detrimental to a wide range of flora and fauna, contributing to their decline.

9. Responsible management of forest costs money, and growth in the use of sustainably produced wood will channel much needed income to help support these forests achieve their potential.

Will the institutional framework outlined for delivering the proposals (in particular Nature Improvement Areas and Local Nature Partnerships) be effective? Does the proposed Natural Capital Committee have sufficient powers?

10. Public policy has so far failed to grasp that the challenge in forestry is the opposite to that facing other sectors. Whereas government seeks to green the profitable business activity of a car manufacturer or a financial institution, in forestry the challenge is to make forestry financially sustainable and allow forests to deliver the societal benefits that they intrinsically provide.

11. Forestry struggles to make ends meet and government intervention often focuses on transforming a forest away from profitable activity towards non-profit making ‘public benefits’. For example, providing public access in a forest requires infrastructure and continued maintenance. Once the public subsidy has expired the provision is lost and the profitable timber activity may have disappeared meaning the forest falls into lack of management.

12. Forestry also lacks the levers that agriculture does. There is no CAP and available public funding is a drop in the ocean compared to what is required to deliver the ambition.

13. The priority for forestry must be to support financial sustainability and then build on top of that additional provision for wildlife and people – they will benefit anyway from the forest being responsibly managed.

14. This action requires building markets for wood, assisting forest owners to understand their resource and how it can be cared for as well as reducing bureaucracy and regulation that has a counter-productive impact. This will not be well delivered by NIAs and LNPs.

What further research and/or evidence is required to develop practical programmes sufficiently detailed to deliver the White Paper’s ambition to fully embed the value of nature into policy delivery?

15. The Forestry Commission and its Research Agency has a key role to play here. While integration of forestry into surrounding land-uses is important, our forests need a fundamentally new way of being aided by Government, working with the marketplace and private sector expertise.

16. It needs to be addressed from the opposite end of the telescope, as described above, to other sectors, and Confor is very concerned that this basic fact will be lost while focus on forestry is left to the Independent Panel on Forestry which will not report until spring 2012.

17. There is considerable interest, for example, in payment for ecosystem services, something the forestry sector here in the UK and abroad has being looking at for many years. Forests provide a huge variety of important benefits – timber, carbon, biodiversity, recreation, etc, but only timber (and to an extent sporting) brings in income. Government is keen to explore how these services can be valued and paid for. While there are individual examples of payments being made to forest owners, no clear opportunities have been identified for replicable funding streams or mechanisms that could have wide relevance.

18. There is a real danger that more public policy thinking time will be devoted to something that will not yield tangible benefit for forestry, and continue the inability to help the sector play its role in a green economy.

What evidence is there from other countries that the approaches proposed in the White Paper can be successfully applied in practice?

19. See previous point about failure of ecosystem services to deliver in the area of forestry and the danger that has for tackling current problems of lack of income in UK forestry.

What resources will be needed to fully deliver the White Paper’s ambitions and how can these best be provided? How might the value of ‘services’ provided by ecosystems to beneficiaries be translated into spending that will enhance the natural environment?

20. See above. The resources required for forestry are difficult to measure, but are probably in the order of hundreds of millions of pounds. Government support for private forestry is about £26 million and ecosystem services are providing perhaps a few hundred thousand. Modest growth in wood prices would deliver millions of pounds. In doing so we could see tens of thousands of hectares of unmanaged forest brought into responsible management with considerable green jobs, carbon reduction and biodiversity benefits.

21. The establishment of a business-led ecosystems markets taskforce and the interest in exploring the expansion of the market for natural services is interesting on an academic level, and may bring some additional income to very individual forests. However, they will not make a fundamental difference.

22 September 2011

Prepared 30th November 2011