Parliamentarians agree to protect future of forests

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

  • New All Party Parliamentary Group formed
  • Call for more planting of trees in UK
  • MPs urge better public understanding of role of managed forests

MPs and Lords have established a new group to safeguard and boost the future of the country’s forests and the wood processing sector. The new All Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry (APPGF) has been created to highlight the urgent need for more investment in the forestry and wood-processing sector.

The group will focus on the need for increased levels of sustainable forestry, helping to drive UK support for the wider forestry and wood-processing sector.

At the House of Commons launch event, Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of group organizers, Confor, set out how forestry and wood processing supports 2.5% of the UK economy and three-quarters of a million jobs.

Confor – a non-government organization that promotes sustainable forestry and wood production – has urged MPs to call on the government to commit to investing in the sector to enable the planting of more trees to sustain long-term growth and avoid an expected drop off in the availability after 2030.

MPs at the APPGF launch event also discussed how the benefits of planting more trees go above and beyond economic factors. More British planting, MPs claimed, would bring environmental and biodiversity benefits to the UK.

As a result, MPs called for better public education on the role managed forests play and the need to encourage more people to visit the nation’s forests.

Chris Davies, Conservative MP for Brecon and Radnorshire, newly elected Chair of the APPGF, said: “Forestry needs to be placed right at the forefront of the agricultural sector and appreciated much more by the wider community.

“A successful forestry and wood processing sector is a positive not only for the economy, but also for the environment, recreation and health too. There is a long way to go to get this issue higher up the political agenda, but with cross party, cross industry engagement I believe we can give our forestry and wood sectors the attention they deserve.”

In addition to electing Mr Davies as Chair of the APPGF, MPs elected three vice chairs: Labour peer, Lord Clark of Windermere, Conservative Lord Boswell of Aynho and Anne-Marie Trevelyan Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed.

With proper investment and commitment from the government the forestry sector could deliver an additional 7000 jobs in deprived rural areas and increased planting could mean that by 2050, forestry alone could decrease 10% of the UK’s annual greenhouse gases emissions.

Confor have also called for increased domestic production of timber to help address problems of illegal timber highlighted in a recent Early Day Motion signed by almost 40 MPs.

Stuart Goodall from Confor welcomed the formation of the Group: “The need for increased levels of sustainable forestry and support for the wider forestry and wood processing sector has never been more important. The sector needs a secure long-term supply of timber, and woodlands need to be managed responsibly to protect them from climate change and pests/diseases.

“We welcome MPs calling for better public education and will work with other organizations to make this happen. We also need to ensure that the planned devolution of responsibility for forests doesn’t damage our sector.”

Confor’s 2014 ‘Delivering Green Growth Report’ sets out three key asks for the government to consider backing which are: to plant more productive forests, stimulate markets for timber and deploy ‘wood first’ policies in all public building projects, and encourage active forest management to deliver the widest possible range of benefits.

The only – and this is a large only – problem that I am seeing here with all of this is that this is all, primarily, aimed at the forest industry, that is to say large operations, whether by the Forestry Commission, Tilhill Forestry, or other private forestry companies and forest owners and that it will be aimed, once again, predominately, at the single species stands of conifers that will produce a quick ROI rather than hardwoods and especially coppicing. Or am I just too pessimistic and critical?

While we most certainly need more trees in Britain, and also a thriving forestry sector, in order to become more self-sufficient in wood in this country, the operational practices of the forest industry, as they are at present, with more often than not the use of heavy machinery, such as timber harvesters, are doing more harm than good.

We must return to a more gentler forestry practice that has less destructive impact on the forest and the forest floor especially. It is my belief that the use of those machines and other heavy extraction gear is the reason that the forest floor flora and fauna is in such a bad state that it is today. When ten or twenty tonne machines compact the soil for hours and days on end what can we expect but destruction and anyone who has seen the aftermath of those machines in action must, I am sure, come to the same conclusion.

In days not all that long ago the extraction of timber from the felling locations was either done by horse or much lighter tractors, or even from the forestry roads by tractor-mounted winch and thus the impact on the forest floor in the stands was much less severe than it is today. The use of horses, actually, benefited the forest in that the hooves of the horses in action would push acorns intoo the ground to just about the right depth for germination. Maybe we should rethink how we do thing. In addition to that it would also create additional employment in the forestry and woodland management sector as some more loggers and other people would be required.

From a sustainability aspect one must also question the use of those heavy machines and that alone as regards to the fuel consumption of them when in full operation. The problem with this, in the capitalist system, is that it would cut somewhat into the profits of the companies and their shareholders and that is more important to them, regardless of what is being said publicly, that the true sustainability of their operations and the health of the forests.

© 2015