Forestry in England: Seeing the wood for the trees Contents

2Woodland planting and management

Woodland Creation

7.Forests and woodland provide multiple environmental, social and economic benefits to society. These categories of benefits are not mutually exclusive and can work in tandem.6 Defra estimates that “woodland provide at least £1.8 billion in social and environmental, and economic benefits each year”.7 The Woodland Trust explained that:

there is so much that trees and woods can deliver across a span of benefits: in terms of commercial timber production but also all the other benefits, such as dealing with floods, dealing with air quality and providing places where people can get physical and mental relaxation.8

The Natural Capital Committee, which provides advice to the Government on policy areas such as forestry, concluded in a recent report that for every 250,000 additional hectares of woodland planted around £500 million of net societal benefits were generated each year.9

The ambition

8.England has one of the lowest levels of woodland cover relative to the rest of the UK and parts of Europe:


Total land area (rounded to the nearest million ha)

Woodland cover as a % of total land (rounded to the nearest per cent)

UK (overall)






Northern Ireland



























Other EU



Total-EU 28



Table 1: Woodland cover comparisons10

9.The Independent Panel on Forestry (IPF) in its 2012 Report recommended that the Government commit to increase woodland cover in England from 10% to 15% by 2060.11 The then Government rejected the 2060 15% ambition as unfeasible on the basis that:

The recent rate of progress has been between 2,000 and 3,000ha per year, which would reach 11% woodland cover by 2060. The Panel’s recommendation implies a 500% increase on this rate sustained for the next 47 years. This is unlikely to be achievable or affordable. We, therefore, agree that 15% is a reasonable level of woodland cover to aim for although not within a specified timescale.12

The Government instead committed to a 12% level of woodland cover by 2060, implying planting rates of at least 5,000ha per a year. In parallel to this 2060 woodland cover ambition the Government has also committed to plant 11 million more trees by 2020.13

Will the Government meet its ambition?

10.In the 2015–16 planting year woodland creation, according to the Forestry Commission, in England stood at under 700 hectares (ha).14 The Forestry Commission told us that this was significantly short of the 5,000ha needed to meet the 2060 ambition and considerably lower than previous years (the average woodland creation rate between 2010 and 2015 was 2,600ha).15

11.We have analysed woodland creation at different planting rates between now and 2060. This showed that even if woodland creation rates were to be double the 2010–15 average and reach 5,000ha per a year the Government would still fall short of the 12% 2060 ambition. This can be explained by the less than required woodland creation rates in recent years. The graph below illustrates the various scenarios we have analysed:

Possible woodland expansion at different annual creation rates

12.We asked our witnesses about the Government’s tree planting performance and the feasibility of reaching the 2060 ambition. The CLA doubted that the Government’s ambition would be met and blamed a lack of Government effort: “The problem is that the aspiration has been put out there, but the policy to achieve the aspiration has not followed it”.16 The CLA went on to explain that the Government needed to take more forceful action and was misguided to think that the private sector was “desperate to plant woodland” but just needed some support to do it.17

13.Other witnesses agreed with the CLA. The Forestry Commission, for example, talked of the need to “speed up” woodland creation, while the Royal Forestry Society called for a “step change in the rate of planting to achieve this target”.18 Similarly, the National Forest Company described meeting the 2060 ambition as “quite a steep hill to climb”.19

14.Nonetheless, witnesses were generally supportive of the 2060 ambition, even if they questioned the likelihood of it being met. The Woodland Trust described the 2060 ambition as “the right one”20 and Confor stated that it was “realistic [as it was] only one-third of the EU average”.21 However, the Royal Forestry Society cautioned that it was “very ambitious”, explaining that England had “not achieved the rate of planting that is required to get there, which is 5,000 hectares a year […] on the average for the last 10 years or, indeed, the average for the last 50 years”.22

15.Many of our witnesses told us that the biggest barrier to greater woodland creation was the complex and bureaucratic nature of the grant schemes currently available for forestry.23 As the Forestry Commission explained: “Most of the land is in private hands and so it is a matter of making tools and financial incentives available, alongside encouragement, advice and support”.24 We return in detail to the issue of grants in Chapter 3.

16.In written evidence Defra noted that “more forestry and woodland planting was needed by the private sector”.25 The Minister did not commit to the 2060 ambition being achieved, noting: “I cannot remember when it was referred to as a target as opposed to an aspiration, but it is intended to be stimulating us about how we increase our tree cover”.26 However, the Minister was very confident that the Government would achieve its short-term targets stating that the Government would “easily meet the 11 million trees that we have said we will plant this Parliament”.27 We will hold the Government to account for delivery of the target to plant 11 million trees by 2020 and to do its part to contribute towards the 2060 ambition. We recommend that the Forestry Commission should release clear and easily accessible information on woodland creation and woodland cover in England every six months.

17.We are not convinced that the Government will do its part to contribute towards the ambition for England to have 12% woodland cover by 2060. While we agree with our witnesses that the 2060 ambition, at just a third of the EU average, is the right one, the Government needs to put the correct processes in place to ensure that this ambition is a reality for this Government and future Governments. In response to this Report the Government should clarify whether it remains committed to the current 2060 ambition and how it will bring about the step change needed in planting to meet this ambition, including setting woodland creation targets for five-year intervals until 2060.

Woodland Management

Why manage woodland?

18.Active woodland management is the process by which landowners intervene to sustain the best features of a woodland for both current and future needs, and could, for example, involve coppicing the forest.28 There are many economic, environmental and social benefits to managing areas of woodland. The Minister summarised some of the benefits of active woodland management in a Westminster Hall debate on tree planting in December 2016:

Active woodland management is important to not only to help monitor and protect against disease, but to increase the biodiversity of our woods by allowing light into them to enable other plants, insects and woodland species to thrive.29

We touch on the wider benefits of woodland management in later sections of this Report.

19.The IPF recommended in its 2012 Report that the Government should work with the forestry and land management sectors to offer woodland management advice, “with a view to increasing the area of woodland with a current UKFS [UK Forestry Standard] compliant management plan, from around 50% to 80% of the total, over about the next ten years”.30 The Government was supportive of the thinking behind the recommendation and noted that:

To accelerate the rate of progress, we want the whole sector, including Government, to work together to provide the advice and incentives that woodland owners need.31

The Government, however, did not commit to the IPF’s proposed target, but instead stated an ambition “that this shared woodland management programme could bring around two-thirds of woodland into active management by 2018”.32 This target is hereafter referred to as the 2018 target.

20.Currently about 58% of English woodland is in management.33 The Forestry Commission has described meeting the target to have two-thirds of English woodland in management by 2018 as “challenging” as “we still have quite a long way to go […] because of the economics and because of the sheer diversity of land ownership”.34 The Forestry Commission went on to summarise research that Defra had undertaken on landowner motivations on woodland management:

there is a significant proportion of woodland owners who really are not very interested in managing their wood. We can go and talk to them […] “Can we come in and manage your woodland, because we would like to extract some timber from it?” In many cases, they will say, “No, I just like having woodland.” There is a persuasion job. I fear that there are still people out there who believe that the best thing to do with a woodland is never to cut down a tree, and that is just scientifically wrong.35

21.The Royal Forestry Society told us that the target would not be met, but appeared to sympathise with the Government’s problems, acknowledging that “nevertheless, on the whole, the Government are doing the right thing, although they may not be doing enough of it”.36

22.In evidence the Minister noted that the Government had “made some decent progress […] but we still have some way to go on our journey”.37 The Minister did not make an explicit commitment that the 2018 target would be met, other than to say “It is still our clear objective to do that”.38 We will continue to monitor Government progress against the 2018 target for woodland in active management. We recommend that the Forestry Commission should include information on the amount of woodland in management in its summary facts and figures document that it releases already.

23.We acknowledge that the Government can only do so much to encourage landowners to manage their forests and woodland. Good relations and communications with the sector will be needed to help the Government meet its 2018 target. Public perception also needs to be managed to highlight the benefits in some forests and woodland of cutting down trees which have reached the end of their natural lifespan. The Government should consult land management and forestry organisations on how it can encourage landowners to bring their woodland into management.

6 See for example Qq37, 86 and 160 [Royal Forestry Society].

7 Defra (FOR0073) para 9

10 Information taken from Forestry Commission, Forestry Facts & Figures 2015

11 Independent Panel on Forestry, Final Report, p31

14 Forestry Commission (FOR0072) para 9

15 Forestry Commission (FOR0072) para 9

23 See for example written evidence from Charles Urquhart (FOR0003), Chiltern Woodlands Project (FOR0029), CLA (FOR0008) and Horticultural Trades Association (FOR0024).

25 Defra (FOR0073) para 11

28 Coppicing is the process by which trees are cut down to ground level at regular intervals to stimulate growth and/or provide timber and firewood, and Forestry Commission England, Practice Guide: Managing native and ancient woodland in England, 2010

29 HC Deb, 7 December 2016, col 97WH

30 Independent Panel on Forestry, Final Report, p 46

17 March 2017