Adapting to climate change: EU agriculture and forestry - European Union Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 164 - 179)


Mr Mark Broadmeadow, Mr Pat Snowdon, Mr Mike Townsend and Mr Richard Smithers

  Q164  Chairman: Good morning. Welcome. Thank you for making it through this very unpleasant weather. Mr Broadmeadow is on his way and I think will be with us in about 15 minutes but we will make a start. Just formally, I think you have in front of you a list of interests that have been declared by the Committee. This is a formal evidence-taking session of the Sub-Committee and a full shorthand note is going to be taken. Of course that will be on the public record and in printed form on our parliamentary website. We will send you a copy of the transcript and you will be able to revise minor points if you have made minor errors. The session is being recorded and it will be webcast live and accessible on the parliamentary website. Perhaps we could start by each of you stating your names for the record.

  Mr Townsend: I am Mike Townsend from the Woodland Trust.

  Mr Smithers: Richard Smithers from the Woodland Trust.

  Mr Snowdon: Pat Snowdon from the Forestry Commission.

  Q165  Chairman: On a general note, could you just give us some sense of what threats are posed generally to forestry by climate change and also what advantages forestry could take? What chances are there for better times? How do these threats and opportunities relate to the wider land management issues?

  Mr Snowdon: My Lord Chairman, can I ask that the Woodland Trust speak first and then we will of course when Mr Broadmeadow is here. He is our foremost expert on this so it would be good if he was present.

  Mr Townsend: In terms of threat, extreme weather events in particular we feel are a problem for forestry, particularly increasing droughts, increasing storms and disrupted weather patterns and linked to that are issues around changes in the pest and disease regime of forests. I think we are already seeing that in terms of new pests arriving on our shores. Linked with that is the need for an increase in biosecurity measures around forestry in particular. From our point of view and our interest in woodland wildlife and biodiversity, the nature of our forest landscape in the UK, which is relatively low compared to the rest of Europe and highly fragmented, causes us particular concerns as the climate changes and as species have that need to move through the landscape to find new climate space. I think we have particular problems in the UK linked to low woodland cover and a fragmented landscape. In terms of the advantages or the opportunities linked to forestry and to climate change, I think there are a lot of roles for trees and for woods in helping both agricultural adaptation and the adaptation for biodiversity more generally. I think that is through a more intimate integration of trees into productive agricultural landscapes but also into those places that are less productive, where the opportunities for a greater coverage of woodland may be possible. I think we have increasingly to look to opportunities to support productive landscapes, both through adaptation of agriculture but also through provision of ecosystem services.

  Mr Broadmeadow joined the meeting

  Q166  Chairman: That is perfect timing. Mr Broadmeadow, welcome.

  Mr Broadmeadow: Thank you and apologies for the lateness.

  Q167  Chairman: Thank you for making it. We have just started and asked the first question which is basically about the threats to forestry from climate change but also about the opportunities. The Woodland Trust went first and perhaps, if you are ready, you could continue?

  Mr Broadmeadow: Beginning with the threats, I think they will have a very regional basis and the most prevalent threats in the UK will be in the south and east of the country, where the impacts of drought are likely to become more and more important. In the north and west of the country, initially, tree growth may well increase as a result of rising CO2 levels, increased warmth and also longer growing seasons. In the north and west with the heavier winter rainfall, there may be increased waterlogging and potentially more endemic windthrow. As time goes on, I think the impacts will become more and more far-reaching. For native woodland communities, the range of some native species may change and certainly we will see, towards the end of the century, a change in community structure of our native woodlands. There will also be opportunities, and I think the fact that woodland has a role in producing timber—a low carbon, sustainable and renewable material both as a source of energy and in construction—will be a real opportunity for forestry in the UK. That is particularly the case because forestry is probably going to be impacted less severely in the UK than in some other parts of Europe and indeed the world. We should also see woodland creation and forestry in general as an important component of the land manager's toolkit to reduce soil erosion, to alleviate flooding and to improve water quality. I do believe there are opportunities out there that we need to address. The one threat that I think is outstanding is the threat of pests and diseases. Those are clearly a concern and will be a concern as time goes on.

  Q168  Earl of Arran: You mentioned disease, which I quite understand. Specifically, Sudden Oak Death started off in Cornwall with the rhododendrons and is now affecting the horse chestnut which has the potential, I think I am right in saying, to affect many other species as well. How seriously do you rate this? Is it spreading up country?

  Mr Broadmeadow: It is not spreading particularly quickly but within the south west peninsula the causal agent, phytophthora ramorum, is of real concern and also the species phytophthora kernoviae. That is not a particular area of expertise of mine but that is a real area of concern and recently there has been movement onto larch. That is an outbreak that the Forestry Commission is addressing as we speak.

  Mr Snowdon: We have looked in the past at the economic impact of different diseases and we are now going to be looking at the larch issue which Mark has just referred to. By economic impact, I mean the effects on many of the social and environmental benefits which economists place values on, including the eco-system services which trees provide, as well as any effects on the wood and timber sector of the economy.

  Q169  Earl of Arran: If Dutch elm disease were to go to other species, it would be very serious, would it not?

  Mr Broadmeadow: Yes. That has a different vector.[1] That is, as far as I am aware,[2] not an immediate concern, but one of the diseases affecting the horse chestnut is bacterial rather than most plant diseases which are fungal in nature, so that is a concern, as is another bacterial disease that is emerging on oak. Pests and diseases do appear to be becoming more prevalent.

  Q170  Earl of Caithness: Can I just change the subject very quickly, because I think it would be helpful for me and perhaps to get it on the record? A quick question for the Forestry Commission: how much land do you manage and what about your relations within the UK given that there is devolution? For the Woodland Trust, given that you have 1,000 sites, how many of those are commercial and profit-making?

  Mr Snowdon: The estate in Scotland is in excess of 600,000 hectares and in England it is about 250,000. I do not have the exact figure for Wales. In England, about 18 per cent of the woodland cover is managed by the Forestry Commission. In Scotland, it is closer to a third or more. You are right to refer to devolution. We have set up our own strategy group within the Commission which is chaired by our Director General to ensure that we take a co-ordinated approach to climate change work across the three countries and that we have cohesion and sharing of information. Obviously there is policy independence between the three countries, but we think it is very important that the organisation takes a strategic approach to this issue.

  Mr Townsend: In terms of the Woodland Trust estate, we have 1,000 properties, as you say, spread over about 20,000 hectares. About a quarter of our estate is in one property in Scotland. Many of our sites are quite small, the majority under five hectares. Our primary objectives as an organisation relate to conservation of biodiversity and provision of public access and they are managed with that in mind. We do harvest timber from a number of our estates, generally the larger ones, and in that way we generate some commercial income, but most of our estate is focused around delivering public access and issues around biodiversity.

  Q171  Earl of Caithness: You are basically an amenity?

  Mr Townsend: Fundamentally amenity-based.

  Q172  Viscount Brookeborough: You did not mention Northern Ireland and I live in Northern Ireland. What is your relationship with Northern Ireland, with our Forest Service?

  Mr Snowdon: We do work together with them a lot and we act on their behalf in some cases in terms of our research and other activity.

  Q173  Viscount Brookeborough: Are they a bit more independent of you?

  Mr Snowdon: They are a little more independent, yes.

  Q174  Viscount Brookeborough: Is this because there is something which stops you being so involved or is this because they wish to be independent or simply do not involve you?

  Mr Snowdon: I think it is the fact that they are part of the Agriculture and Rural Development Department in Northern Ireland. We are all looking at very similar issues and we generally work very closely together.

  Mr Broadmeadow: The UK forestry standard, which is the definition of sustainable forest management in the UK, is a UK document rather than GB. In response to the earlier question, the only point I would add is that not all of the Forestry Commission estate is woodland. For example, in England of the 258,000 hectares only 202,000 is woodland.

  Q175  Lord Lewis of Newnham: We are talking about management essentially of forestation. We received a paper from the Confederation of Forest Industries who made a statement that in fact only about half of the forest area is managed, the rest of it is unmanaged. What happens in this particular situation? Who is responsible for this? If we are talking about things like diseases and things like this, they can very often start by being very localised and, if it is in an area that is being unmanaged, what happens? Do they just naturally spread or what?

  Mr Broadmeadow: In terms of not being managed, this may well be in terms of not being managed for timber production. They may be being managed for biodiversity reasons for example. They may be being managed for game cover, but certainly in England this is an issue that the Forestry Commission are looking to address to increase the level of management, because there is some evidence that there has been a decline in habitat quality because of the lack of management, primarily in woodlands that were established over the past 70 years and have not subsequently been managed. That is an issue we are looking to address and we are looking at it as a potential source of renewable energy in the form of wood fuel. We are focusing grant aid on improving woodland condition through woodland improvement grants through the Rural Development Programme for England.

  Mr Townsend: Part of the issue is going back to the very fragmented nature of the forest resource, particularly in England and Wales. It does make management quite problematic, particularly in an agricultural landscape. I think the reason that lack of management has arisen is very often due to practical and commercial reasons, but it is a concern in some cases.

  Q176  Viscount Ullswater: If I can turn our attention to the tension between food production and forestry, this is really a question initially for the Woodland Trust. In your evidence, you state that natural habitats and resources should not be seen as luxuries to compete against the needs of production. I take that as being commercial production as well as perhaps any other form of production. It notes also in paragraph 10—this is your evidence—that concerns around food security, including the possible need to increase food production, perhaps represent an obstacle to the adaptation of forestry to climate change. Could you just explain how you see the woodlands under your control as being adaptable in any sense to climate change?

  Mr Townsend: Taking several points there, if I may, I think the starting-point is that we completely support the need to secure food production and indeed see an increase in food production in years to come. That is our starting-point, if you like. We then see that trees can perform an important role in the adaptation of productive landscapes, either through issues Mark has already raised to do with management of water quality or to do with protection of crops or to do with shade and shelter for livestock and animal welfare issues. There is a whole range of issues where perhaps trees as opposed to woodland can be important in helping agricultural landscapes to adapt. There is nonetheless, we recognise, a tension there between the need for food production and land available for forestry. I think, in very productive landscapes, we would see the focus being on the integration of trees into the landscape as opposed to the widespread adoption of forestry. In less productive landscapes, there is the opportunity for more expansive use of forestry. Again, I think we would see that being linked through to the provision of particular services. Water management again is a very important one but also soil conservation, issues to do with biodiversity and generating connected landscapes. I think, as I suggested earlier, we need to view our estate which is relatively modest but also woods in general in terms of how they integrate into a productive landscape and how they contribute to it, rather than being seen as something which is an alternative to that landscape. I suppose it is a shift in emphasis and approach and a shift in understanding of the way trees fit into a landscape. I think historically they would have been more integrated. I think that integration probably has shifted over the last century, but there are lots of good reasons why we can now see the need to integrate trees, woods and forests more into the productive, agricultural landscape.

  Q177  Viscount Ullswater: Is there a comment the Forestry Commission would like to make?

  Mr Broadmeadow: I would fully support Mike's comments that woodland and trees should be seen as part of the toolkit of land managers. We do not believe that there needs to be an issue between food security and woodland creation. The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan highlighted what an additional 10,000 hectares per year of woodland could contribute over 15 years in terms of climate change mitigation. That is 150,000 hectares of woodland. That is not a huge area when you consider the amount of agricultural land. If we get it right with a well thought-out spatial framework looking to target woodland creation (a) onto marginal land and (b) where the environmental co-benefits can be maximised, then there need not be a real issue. There are also large areas of contaminated land around where woodland has been demonstrably effective in stabilising some of those contaminants and being a productive land use for those areas that are otherwise not likely to be productive. If we target woodland creation well, there need not be a conflict.

  Chairman: Who should have the overall responsibility for that? Where should the overall responsibility for that sit?

  Viscount Ullswater: Who is going to pay for it?

  Q178  Chairman: Exactly!

  Mr Broadmeadow: I think there are two issues there. One is who should have responsibility for ensuring that we get any woodland creation programme right. I think there is joint responsibility between Defra, the Forestry Commission and Natural England and the broad range of stakeholders involved with land management and land use. As far as who should pay for it, again the UK Low Carbon Transition Plan said that, at the current time, public finance is not an option for a step change in woodland creation and that Government would look to support encouraging private funding of woodland creation.

  Mr Townsend: I would agree that there is joint responsibility across the board for delivering different elements of woodland creation and the need for more tree cover. I also think that there are other EU directives, particularly the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive, which help to guide where some of this might happen. I think there are a number of things coming together and in a way this White Paper supports that integration of those different directives and guiding documents. Some of the groundwork is there already and it is a matter really of how we fund it and how we move it forward.

  Mr Smithers: We will come on to it I am sure, but in terms of the Common Agricultural Policy the vast bulk of money goes to decoupled production payments and far less to rural development. Of the latter, only just over ten per cent goes to forestry. In a world of climate change and given all that trees can do for us and for agriculture, it would be nice to think that we could somehow reach a better balance.

  Q179  Earl of Arran: Just a quick question on the timetable set out in the White Paper. I know you are aware of the two different phases. The first one is for preparatory groundwork to 2012 and the second one is for a comprehensive strategy from 2013 onwards. In your view is this too slack? Is it too slow? Is it lacking in ambition? What are your views about this?

  Mr Townsend: I would say the urgency is there and therefore I would not call it too slack. I think there is a degree of autonomous adaptation going on already, particularly in agriculture, so I think the need to put a framework in place urgently is there. There are elements, as I was suggesting earlier, in terms of other directives and other guidance, which lay some of the groundwork for making things happen. I think the timetable is realistic in the sense that there are some things that we can get on with at a relatively early stage. The one thing we should not do is allow some of the gaps in knowledge and some of the uncertainty around those to delay things which we can see as being "no regrets" options, if you like. I think there are things that can be got on with even where there is potentially a lack of complete evidence. Our view would be that the timetable is probably OK.

1   Note by witness:Dutch elm disease is carried by an insect vector and has a different mode of infection to sudden oak death as previously disclosed. Back

2   Note by witness: There is no current concern over Dutch elm disease moving to other species. Back

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