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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)


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

  Q180  Earl of Arran: And the Forestry Commission?

  Mr Broadmeadow: I would agree that the timetable broadly is about right. There are some aspects of the timetable—one of those would be market mechanisms which we will come on to later on—where I do not think the evidence is, and can be, there for a quantifiable market mechanism to be in place. Some of the elements, as Mike has pointed out, of the evidence base mean it is a challenging timetable but a necessary timetable. The one point that the White Paper did not draw out is that we cannot know what will happen; we cannot know what the adaptation responses will be because there is large uncertainty in the climate of the future. We cannot think that by 2013 we will have all the ducks lined up. We have to be aware that there is considerable uncertainty and therefore it is the win/win measures that we need to advance as a matter of urgency.

  Q181  Lord Lewis of Newnham: Do you think there is a significant difference in the problem of the timetable as far as agriculture and forestation are concerned? We were told by Defra in their paper that they thought the White Paper dealt poorly with forestation.

  Mr Smithers: The point has been made by others before. The urgency in terms of adaptation is well illustrated by the time it takes for a tree to grow. We are one of the least wooded countries in Europe. The European average is 44 per cent woodland cover. We have 12 per cent woodland cover in the UK and nine per cent in England. Given all that trees can do for us and for agriculture, we really do need to crack on. There are opportunities even now within the agri-environment measures to do some things in relation to woodland creation and the establishment of trees. We need to take full advantage of those, even in these next few years, but at the moment we are not doing so. At the moment there is a lack of uptake of those measures and of higher level scheme money more generally.

  Earl of Caithness: I think that has partially answered my question. I am going to come back on a later question and follow that one through.

  Q182  Lord Palmer: Mr Smithers, you touched on my question a moment or two ago. The Trust does not believe that current measures under the CAP adequately support adaptation and currently the CAP does little to encourage the establishment of new native woodlands. Especially as funds for forestry seem to come from a very small rural development budget, what changes in your joint view do you think might be made in the short term to increase the possibilities under the CAP for assisting the forestry sector and indeed for it to adapt to climate change?

  Mr Smithers: In the immediate term, given that there are some woodland and tree establishment measures and more coming in this year, the need really immediately is to encourage people to apply for those measures. The Forestry Commission does not do a great deal of outreach work. The organisations—Natural England for example—administering and promoting agri-environment schemes are very much focused on the agricultural side of things inevitably. Perhaps one thing that could be done very immediately would be to see those people who are working with farmers on agri-environment being encouraged to promote the woodland and tree establishment measures, being trained in how those are best implemented and to see greater uptake. That would be great.

  Mr Townsend: This also links back to something that we were saying earlier about the tension between agricultural production and a perceived problem with trees in relation to that. I think there is something about the advice or knowledge gap, a lack of understanding of the role that trees might play, and the impact that may or may not have on productive landscapes.

  Q183  Lord Palmer: Who would be the best medium to transmit that to landowners?

  Mr Townsend: I think the best medium is the landowners. It is inevitably the case that landowners do draw on the practice and experience of other landowners as being solid advice, if you like. We may come on to this, but one of the big knowledge gaps is not necessarily at the research end, although there are always things of course you can do at that end; it is turning that into some practical action which people can relate to in a meaningful way. One of the reasons why there is a lack of uptake of some of those environmental measures is that uncertainty and lack of understanding. I think there are other things to do with the complexity of some of the grant systems and the bureaucratic nature of some grant systems which also act as a barrier, but I think there is something missing there in terms of practical experience as well.

  Q184  Lord Palmer: I know Lord Ullswater would agree, it is obviously not helped by the unprofitable state of the industry.

  Mr Townsend: That does not help.

  Mr Snowdon: I would agree with much of that. I think it would be helpful if forestry was seen as more integral to farming activities. Again, it is this idea of having to be in competition with farming which can be a restriction on how forestry's contribution is perceived. There may be some cultural reasons why forestry is not more used by farmers, if you like, as an activity. That has to be recognised. I think it is very important, as Mike has said, that research is fed down to a practical level so that land managers are aware of the management issues surrounding forestry and climate change for example. You may be aware that there was a report published on forestry and climate change towards the end of November by Professor Sir David Read of the Royal Society. That provides the best evidence we have in a single publication on the interaction between forestry and climate change, but I think we do have a challenge now to disseminate that information to land managers.

  Q185  Viscount Brookeborough: When you look at farmers and forestry, I am not sure that the Forest Service in our case in Northern Ireland, or the Forestry Commission, take into account that you are dealing within that with two different groups: those who already have some forestry and those who do not have a tree about the place. What may appear as an incentive to somebody who has some forestry, who may already have five or six hectares being sold every ten years or whatever—they might feel morally obliged to reinvest some—and what that incentive entails will have no effect whatsoever on somebody who has never had forestry before. If you talk about increasing forestry, those people who already have some of it are quite likely to see if they can put a little bit more into it. For the farmer who does not have any, there is no understanding or education and indeed it will be his first little block—in our case in Northern Ireland where it is quite fast growing there is still 40 years; in most places in the rest of the United Kingdom it is 70 or 100 years. I am going to talk about financing later, but there is a whole education thing here because talking to a farmer who does not have any trees, suggesting he plant some trees, you are barking up the wrong tree!

  Mr Townsend: I would agree with that. I think that is certainly true. There is a very interesting example from mid-Wales which you may be familiar with. There is a group of farmers called the Pontbren farmers who have started off with their hillsides and have had a problem with run-off of water from pastures and pollution of water courses. They have invested a lot of time and effort in planting hedgerows and putting in small blocks of woodland and have found both an increase in pasture production and increased lambing percentage. They have had some practical feedback in terms of their farming practice.

  Q186  Viscount Brookeborough: In the short term?

  Mr Townsend: In the short term.

  Q187  Viscount Brookeborough: It is shorter than the felling-time.

  Mr Townsend: Exactly, so they have had feedback in three or four years of undertaking activity. I think having more of those practical examples of where farmers have undertaken action and have seen benefits in the short term will be helpful in terms of getting the right activity on those sorts of farms.

  Mr Smithers: Timber is the least of benefits for somebody planting today. It is these other benefits, these ecosystem services which trees can provide very swiftly in terms of water quality, increasing absorption of water into soil, preventing run-off and so on, that are likely I think to convince farmers to take action.

  Mr Broadmeadow: I think Mike is quite right that communicating to the landowners is absolutely essential. It is worth pointing out that the delivery plan for England's forestry strategy has been developed jointly by Natural England and the Forestry Commission and increasingly we are working together. I would anticipate that we will, through a combined approach, be able to achieve what Mike points out. Picking up the point that Pat made about the Read Report, the review of the evidence, we are about to embark on a training course for our woodland officers to ensure that they have all the up-to-date information on issues associated with climate change, to ensure they can communicate those both to landowners and also colleagues and stakeholders in the regions to really get this message across.

  Q188  Lord Lewis of Newnham: The Woodland Trust makes an interesting set of proposals as far as the CAP situation is concerned. You suggest in fact the merger of the two current pillars into a single European land management policy. I think one can see from where you are coming on that in the remarks you made earlier in this discussion. Can you expand on this proposal and explain how it might, in your mind, assist the EU forestry sector to adapt to climate change? How else could the CAP be amended to assist the forest sector to adapt to climate change? In your evidence you also make a note of the point which you just raised and that is that the complexity of the grant system appears to be a significant barrier to uptake of many of these applications that are put in. I can assure you that is not unique to agriculture. We all suffer from that whenever we get into an EU situation. The complexity of the application forms is enormous. In many instances, one has help. How far are you able to help people to make applications? Where would they go to get help? The most impressive factor I met when I first made an application to the European Union was to receive a document that was two and a half inches thick and to start knowing how to even deal with it was an important factor. I was wondering whether this was part of your problem in getting money out via the CAP and other mechanisms.

  Mr Townsend: I think it is part of the problem. There have been studies done of previous grant schemes, not just through the CAP, but other grant schemes related to forestry. The two most significant barriers are the complexity and difficulty in filling in the forms and advice and understanding how you actually make it happen on the ground subsequently. That advice element is absolutely crucial in turning what in some cases are quite good schemes into action. I think take-up is a big problem with many of these schemes. There is not sufficient help and advice at a farm level at the moment. Going back to your opening point about the combination of the two pillars into one land management fund, as it were, I think part of the rationale behind this is looking for a more flexible pot of money from which countries in the EU can make decisions based on their own particular circumstances and their own particular existing pattern of land use. Particularly as we have very low woodland cover in the UK, we have in a way a much greater need for increasing woodland cover and tree cover. We are also applying some of that funding to existing directives—again, the Water Framework Directive and the Floods Directive are a good example—and there are also issues around soil conservation. It is being able to use that pot of money in a more flexible way for adaptation both at a farm level but also on a much wider landscape and catchment level. I think that is the motivation to our thoughts.

  Q189  Earl of Caithness: Possibly one of the best hopes for forestry in the UK is that it is not under European control. Do you find any support for your idea that you want to shove forestry under Brussels control rather than our own control?

  Mr Townsend: No.[3]

  Q190  Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: Are there similar bodies to yourself in other parts of Europe? What kind of relationships do you have with them and what kind of views do they hold on these kinds of questions?

  Mr Townsend: We operate at a UK level.

  Q191  Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: Only?

  Mr Townsend: Yes.

  Q192  Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: So you do not have link-ups?

  Mr Townsend: No. In fairness, the nature of woodland cover in the UK means that in other parts of Europe there are not organisations like ours because the perceived need is not as great. I think the Woodland Trust is peculiarly UK because we have peculiar forest cover for that reason.

  Mr Broadmeadow: We would support increasing environmental payments to promote the environmental benefits of land management.

  Q193  Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: Could you comment on my questions too that were addressed to your relationships?

  Mr Snowdon: We work quite extensively at EU level. We have international policy sections that do that specifically and that is from ministerial level down to sub-committee level within the Commission. One example at the moment is that we are a member of a sub-committee on forestry and climate change which is to report to the Standing Forestry Commission at the end of this year. That brings together Member States from right across the European Union to look at the evidence on forestry and climate change and to bring that to the attention, if you like, of the Standing Forestry Commission.

  Q194  Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: You see yourself as a public body rather than private?

  Mr Snowdon: We are a public body.

  Q195  Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: I do not know the extent of this. You mentioned a 44 per cent ownership of woodland across the whole of Europe by comparison with the UK. Presumably you have figures, do you, on the balance between public and private ownership?

  Mr Smithers: No, that was not ownership. That is 44 per cent woodland cover.

  Q196  Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: Coverage?

  Mr Smithers: Yes, as compared with 12 per cent woodland cover in the UK.

  Q197  Lord Palmer: Could we ask perhaps that you submit a breakdown? Could you write in and let us know what the breakdown is?

  Mr Smithers: Yes.

  Q198  Lord Palmer: Could I ask a very quick supplementary to the Forestry Commission? There is not the equivalent in Brussels like there is of the national farmer unions throughout the actual Community?

  Mr Broadmeadow: Not to our knowledge.

  Mr Snowdon: Forestry is dealt with rather differently by Europe from agriculture. There are strategic documents which are for forestry, but I think the emphasis is more broadly on co-operation and information exchange rather than a mechanism like the Common Agricultural Policy which originally was aimed essentially at agriculture. The short answer is probably no, but it is important to remember there is an EU Forest Action Plan and there is a lot of discussion across Europe between various forestry departments on how forestry should go forward.

  Q199  Earl of Caithness: Mr Townsend, you mentioned earlier the Floods Directive and the Water Framework Directive as areas that could be helpful. Also, the Government has said that the Habitats Directive is working in the opposite way, being more restrictive. Could you expand on how these other Directives might or might not help you?

  Mr Townsend: Just taking the Water Framework Directive which has now resulted in river basin management plans being produced before the end of last year, we are already seeing in that measures for woodland creation as a way of combating diffuse pollution. We are already seeing measures coming through as a result of the Water Framework Directive and the things coming from that. I think the same will be true in relation to the Floods Directive in that the role of trees, both in rural and urban areas, is relatively well-evidenced in terms of surface water flooding but also in terms of river flooding as well. There is evidence of the role of trees in delivering those and our sense is that these will feed through into measures subsequently.

3   Note by witness: It is not our intention that forestry should be under European control, only that CAP funds should be available in a more flexible way for forestry. Back

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