Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by The Woodland Trust (K 5)

  The Woodland Trust welcomes this inquiry. This short memorandum focuses upon a number of questions and areas which we believe it would be especially useful for the Committee to explore during the inquiry. The memorandum does not deal in any depth with the work of Forest Enterprise (FE) as we have already recently provided input to the current Quinquennial Review of FE. We will focus on the regulatory, advisory and grant giving role of the Forestry Commission.

Maintaining an overview in the post-devolution era

  There is a need for a clearer post-devolution overview to be adopted by the FC. Whilst we welcome the development of country based forest strategies since this will allow forestry to be more responsive and attuned to variations in priorities, there are several forestry initiatives which require a UK overview including the Woodland Habitat Action Plans (part of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan), the UK Forestry Standard and the forestry aspects of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy[1].

  We also feel that the Commission (together with the NI Forest Service) could adopt a much stronger lead in setting a framework to ensure a coherent UK view of our international forestry commitments, in setting common standards for indicators of progress and in creating guidance on how grant systems will reflect different country priorities without creating wholesale confusion amongst those who operate across the UK.

  An example of such an issue requiring a framework of coherence and common standards is the development of country based forest strategies. The Woodland Trust warmly welcomed the England Forestry Strategy when it was produced as a genuine step forward in forestry policy which recognised the benefits of multi-purpose forestry and the importance of ancient woodland. We also understand that the draft Wales Woodland Strategy, will include a number of positive acknowledgements of the wider environmental and other benefits of forestry, and we look forward to it specifically recognising the value of ancient woodland. However the draft Scottish Forestry Strategy which has been through two formal rounds of consultation appears to have taken little account of external comment. The environmental sector in particular appears to have been ignored and there is little recognition in the Strategy of the environmental benefits that forestry can bring. This kind of inconsistency should be addressed in order to ensure that some coherent sense of relationship to an overview is reflected by the country strategies.

  Action therefore needs to be taken to ensure that the UK scale overview is not lost, in the post-devolution era and that country variations are integrated into a coherent overall perspective. The present situation is one where we have UK BAP woodlands targets, a UK Forestry Standard, UK wide certification standards, and UK wide sustainable development indicators but country strategies which vary in their commitment to meeting these obligations.

How can communication within the Commission and its advisory bodies be improved?

  Communication between the Commission's "stakeholder" groups such as the Forestry Commission Advisory Panel (FCAP) and its various sub-committees and between the England Forestry Forum and the England Native Woodland Partnership needs to be improved. A similar situation exists in Scotland in relation to the Regional Advisory Committees. In the interests of "joined-up-thinking" it is essential that effort is not duplicated, and that each group fulfils its potential. The role of these groups could be more clearly defined and there is a need for mechanisms to be put in place which foster greater communication and cooperation between them.

The need for a review of the Forestry Act

  We believe that at present the FC is seriously constrained in terms of its working practices and ability to deliver current overall policy objectives by the detail contained within the Forestry Act (1967). There are strict controls laid down, particularly in Part III of the Act, which impact upon the FC's ability to work in partnership with others, upon the way that funds can be allocated and upon its statutory committee structure.

Is the FC adequately funded?

  It is our view based upon both working closely with the FC and from the study of recent settlements such as SR 2000 that the FC is inadequately funded to effectively deliver on its countrywide strategies and the UK Forestry Standard. While new RDR money for forestry measures is welcome, it has still been a modest settlement and much of the money goes towards fulfilling existing commitments (eg those under the 15 year life span of FWPS). We also believe that there is a need for greater flexibility to be afforded (see above) as well as a review of funding priorities to better reflect policy objectives.

A re-assessment of FC's status within Government?

  At present the impression is that the FC is hampered in its ability to act as a strong advocate for forestry within government. This is particularly apparent with regard to its status in relation to its parent department, the lead forestry ministry—MAFF. For example, we were disappointed that the FC failed to make an impact when modulation was being proposed. Forestry is a sector with an ability to deliver a wide range of sustainable benefits and has much to offer that is in the spirit of the Rural Development Regulation. It should, we believe, have accordingly received a larger amount of modulation money, but partly because the FC was unable to put resources behind a concerted lobbying effort, it formed a disappointingly smaller part of the picture.

  It is also often unclear who is taking the lead of forestry matters—a good example of this is the confusion over the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme (FWPS) where applications have to be approved by both MAFF and the FC. This is widely perceived to be excessively bureaucratic and it would seem to be far more sensible for the scheme to be administered by just one department.

  The Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Select Committee recently noted that there is a general perception that "forestry in the UK is in crisis but remains on the margins of the rural debate"[2]. We would like to see the FC given more resources and empowered to act truly as ambassadors for forestry within government. Forestry has a central and unique role to play in relation to sustainable development and it is important that the FC is established and encouraged to take a more high profile role in promoting its benefits.

The linking of FC budgets with FE surplus: the need for re-examination

  Forest Enterprise's financial performance, as the executive agency of the Commission responsible for managing the Commission's estate, has a direct effect on the FC's ability to provide grants to other landowners for woodland management for public benefit. We would like to see a de-coupling of this relationship since managing woodland for the public benefit is a central theme of contemporary forestry policy. We believe that the availability of grants for the delivery of public benefits should not be conditional on the fortunes of the timber market and that adequate grants should be provided to the FC irrespective of the state of the markets, to allow it to do its job adequately.

How can we ensure a more streamlined approach to grant provision for new woodland creation?

  There is currently a proliferation of various incentives for new woodland creation through for example, challenge funds, supplements to the Woodland Grant Scheme (WGS) and agri-environment schemes. Although we warmly welcome the intentions and purposes behind such incentives we are concerned about the inconsistency of the schemes. For example, WGS planting grants in England are subject to competitive "Challenge" funding but also in England and elsewhere rates vary depending on location, and on various disecretionary supplements. This creates uncertainty as to the availability of grant aid and it is a source of confusion amongst landowners, leading in many cases to failure to take full advantage of the schemes that are available. We would like to see a streamlined, targeted system of schemes for new native woodland creation.

Is there a need for more concerted effort to protect ancient woodland?

  Ancient woodland is one of the great glories of our natural and cultural heritage—it is a finite and irreplaceable habitat and its continuity over centuries has led to it being our richest habitat for wildlife in the UK. We believe that there are several areas where the FC could do more to ensure its protection and enhancement:

    —  There is a high percentage of illegal felling cases that are not followed up by the FC (source: Annual Report 1998-99)[3] We would like to see the current review of the administration of the Woodland Grant Scheme encompass a review of the felling licence system's effectiveness as a tool to protect ancient woods.

    —  Approval is currently being given to some WGS schemes even where they involve planting conifers on planted ancient woodland sites (PAWS). Under the Forestry Act owners are compelled to restock sites, they are then provided with incentives to plant conifers irrespective of whether the site is ancient. In many cases it would be more beneficial for the site and more in tune with policy priorities if they were to simply allow the site to regenerate, but at present both legislation and incentives can push the owner down the route of restocking with conifers. It is essential that PAWS capable of restoration are protected from further confier planting and are taken into positive management to restore them, thus pro-actively building upon one of the UK Sustainable Development indicators (S11: Area of ancient semi-natural woodland in GB).

    —  We would like to see the FC allocated more resources to fulfil more pro-actively its role as a non-statutory consultee on planning applications affecting ancient woodland. There should be a mechanism put in place so that local authorities are encouraged to inform the FC of these cases and the criteria are clearly defined.

  None of these aims will be achieved without increased resources being made available; there is an especially pressing need for more resources to be made available for the environmental aspects of the FC's work.

10 November 2000.

1  DETR: Quality of Life Counts: a strategy for sustainable development in the UK. pp223-226. (Indicators S10, Area of woodland in the UK; S11, Area of ancient semi-natural woodland in GB; S12, Sustainable management of woodland; S13, Number of countries with national forest programmes.) Back
2  ETR Select Committee Rural White Paper, Seventh Report, Session 1999-2000, para 54. Back
3  Forestry Commission: Annual Report and Accounts 1998-99, p12. Back

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