Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by The Institute of Chartered Foresters

1. The Institute of Chartered Foresters is the Royal Chartered body for forestry and arboricultural professionals in the UK. Our members practise in every branch of forestry and arboriculture relating to forests, woodlands and trees. We provide services to members including support and promotion of the work of foresters and arboriculturists; information and guidance to the public and industry; and training and educational advice to students and professionals looking to build upon their experience. We also regulate the standards of entry to the profession and offer examinations for professional qualifications. We are regulated by our Royal Charter and maintain a Code of Ethics and Rules of Professional Conduct for all members.

2. The Institute welcomes the opportunity to respond to The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the Natural Environment White Paper. Our members are involved in land management, and particularly woodland management at a practical, policy and academic level across England in both the Private and State sector. The forestry profession is committed to sustainable land management and supports the aims set out in the Natural Environment white paper.

3. Foresters share a common sense of responsibility for our natural environment. In an increasingly instant world, we think on a different timescale and sustainability is the central tenet of our management: far from being an abstraction, how the forest and the land will be in 50, 100 or 200 years time is part of every decision Chartered Foresters make. For foresters, end of the century predictions of climate change mean action today. In this sense the NEWP fails to reflect the dynamic nature of species and habitats in the UK. Without a strong focus on adaptation and helping manage change in nature, the approach outlined could have serious impacts within policy.

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?

4. Delivery of NEWP will depend heavily on partnership working—this will need to be stimulated, promoted and led. Forestry is exceptionally well placed to help deliver a transition to a low-carbon economy, while promoting the environment and helping people to reconnect with nature.

5. With half of England’s lowland woods unmanaged, bringing more woods into sustainable management must be at the heart of the vision for the future. Neglect of woodland rarely benefits the environment or biodiversity. Forests are England’s most species-rich habitats. They are also complex, a lot more complex than simple conifer vs. broadleaved. Each stage of growth holds different species and a forest differs from a stand or plantation in the way different habitats are combined together. At the moment, Government studies show that birds, butterflies and flora are all declining in Britain’s woods. The principal causes are lower light levels (lack of management, such as coppicing and thinning, and open space) and browsing by deer which are at historically high population levels. We can and must reverse these declines over the next decade by bringing more woods into management. Forest management is a win:win: the operations which help us obtain wood and timber sustainably almost invariably benefit wildlife and the wider environment.

6. There needs to be an adoption of a more pragmatic approach towards land management, reduction of regulation and an increased understanding of markets.

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?

7. This is difficult to say as the National Planning Policy Framework, if implemented as proposed, will run counter to delivery of NEWP, only taking account of designated sites as a planning consideration, not ecosystems or components of ecological networks, which are fundamental to NEWP. Indeed, almost all environmental issues need to be considered at the landscape level. LNPs need to take an integrated approach to land and consider natural resources and ecosystem services as well as wildlife. Natural resources such as aquifers and rivers are limiting factors to development. LPNs will need clear, objective leadership and should not be dominated by narrow interests - it is not obvious where this will come from, but objective leadership is key to success. This leadership needs to be reinforced and supported by professional knowledge and experience at a local and national level.

8. Forestry’s integrated management, as exemplified by the UKWAS standard, has a significant role to play at the heart of a smarter approach to land use. This 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 may not be best 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?

9. The value of nature is already embedded into forestry policy through the UK Forestry Standard and Guidelines. What is not happening well is integration of forestry with other land uses. Further research is required to look at the economic impacts of the approach outlined in the NEWP and what impact it will have on rural and environmental businesses, green jobs/employment, markets and skills. Forests provide a huge variety of important benefits – timber, carbon, biodiversity, recreation, soil and water conservation etc, but only timber (and to a limited extent sporting) brings in income. Government is keen to explore how these services can be valued and paid for. Critically does the NEWP approach improve the cost effectiveness of land management delivery or does it make us more dependent upon grants and subsidies? The ICF suggests possibly not.

10. Traditional rural industries, especially forestry but also agriculture, are sources not only of renewable energy but also renewable materials such as wood and fibre. These industries are fragmented and diffuse. They can be highly important at a local scale but are in direct competition with highly consolidated global industries such as cement, steel and plastics that rely on fossil energy and depleting natural resources. We suggest that this market imbalance is a strong rationale for Government support for research into innovation and new technology into the production and distribution of renewable materials.

11. ICF believes a new vision for our landscapes in England is essential: we must think about optimising the wide range of benefits land can deliver, not simply maximising single products. This is the challenge for the NEWP: to see how different sectors can work together to meet each valid and differing aspiration as part of a whole, not as competing sectoral demands. Foresters recognise that forestry is about far more than timber—they now look to colleagues across the land management interests to equally recognise and understand how wildlife, timber and recreation can and do prosper within the same forest.

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

12. Unlike France and to some extent Germany and elsewhere in Europe, we have few communal or civic forests administered by local authorities—owns and districts. Thus, compared with Europe, the public have poor understanding of forest and woodland management because it is not part and parcel of life in their locality. So in the sense that LNP might engage with woodlands and forests, this will be a benefit, but only if there is the proper degree of professionalism in management. In many towns and regions across Europe the local forester is a civic dignitary like the doctor or the clergy. Sound management rests on sound advice.

13. Look to Scandinavia as a model of how forests and woodland are managed properly. Timber is a major export from all Scandinavian countries from utility poles from Finland to flat pack wooden furniture from Sweden. The Scandinavian countries are very focussed on sustainability and environmental management and forestry is a major contributor to GDP. In the USA the large deciduous forests across the east coast, which were havested in the past, are now all under sustainable management and regulation. A significant amount of this woodland is in National Parks but much of the land within the NPs is in private ownership, but its management is regulated, which is a major achievement in a country that dislikes Government regulation of any sort.

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?

14. The obvious resource required is funding. The amounts announced with NEWP are totally inadequate to realise the ambitions set out. Forestry delivers on ecosystems services but owners are not rewarded for it. The Ecosystem Markets Task Force must look at how land management practices can be valued in the market place. 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 and, critically, support for the rural economy.

Does the White Paper set out an accurate assessment of the barriers to public engagement with the natural environment and make the most effective proposals for re-engagement?

15. The ICF fully supports the Government’s aims to reconnect people with the natural environment. Knowledge of woodland management in particular seems to be lost from public perception. Recent cuts to government departments have created further barriers to general environmental education and recreation as well as specific partnership initiatives. This has not been sufficiently addressed in the NEWP. Cuts in County Council Rights of Way departments will result in degraded PROW networks for cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians. Cuts in Forestry Commission and Natural England are ending well established education services linked to a range of priority habitats, species and rural businesses. Cuts in Forest Research are particularly worrying in view of pest and disease threats, climate change and the need to increase the efficiency of timber production in our small densely populated country. Reductions in funding for the Public Forest Estate, National Parks, County Council and Local Authorities will not be replaced by volunteers to deliver services, previously undertaken by skilled professionals. Forestry’s integrated management as exemplified by the UKWAS standard has a significant role to play at the heart of a smarter approach to land use. Our central proposal is a simple and practical one. As custodians of woods and forests different skills are required to deliver efficient timber production, enhanced wildlife value, or improved public access and enjoyment. Forests need professional management to deliver this multiplicity.

16. Research on rural development by the Scottish Government has shown that a key means of engaging communities with the natural environment is through local employment in environment-based industries. This is especially so in rural communities where services such as schools and shops are dependent on continuing demand. Local jobs are a necessity. Forestry provides opportunities for long-term full-time jobs not only in forest management but also in services such as green tourism, recreation and wildlife management. The basis for secure employment is the application of professional skills to maintain a sustainable and adaptable resource coupled with research to engender innovation in supplying the emerging green economy.

17. The Government should recognise that the complexity involved in managing the use of land sustainably for the future cannot be delivered without commitment and professional involvement. The first step in breaking barriers and engaging the public must be a proper and thorough monetary valuation of the landscape including forests and woods, (see point 12 above). Once the public realise just how valuable the natural landscape is in terms of resources, carbon sequestration, absorption of atmospheric pollution and the concomitant benefits to human health (reductions on lung diseases etc), improvement in biodiversity etc, barriers will fall and people will engage. This is achievable but does require objective professional leadership to manage the costs and benefits of the natural landscape. Without and objective measure of the value, any statements from Government about how it feels the landscape is important is subjective and susceptible to political changes.

26 September 2011

Prepared 16th July 2012