Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Woodland Trust (A28)

  The Woodland Trust welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to this Inquiry. The comments that follow are delivered on behalf of the United Kingdom's leading charity solely dedicated to the conservation of native and broadleaved woodland. We achieve our purposes through a combination of acquiring woodland and sites for planting and through wider advocacy of the importance of protecting ancient woodland, enhancing its biodiversity, expanding woodland cover and increasing public enjoyment. We own over 1,100 sites across the country, covering around 18,000 hectares and we have 250,000 members and supporters.


  It is clear that this is a time of extensive collective reflection over the future of the countryside. It is important that such reflection adopts a broad view and does not focus solely upon the farming sector to the exclusion of other interests. If foot and mouth disease has taught us nothing else it is that the range of interests dependent upon the countryside is wider than ever imagined and these include for example forestry contracting businesses and leisure businesses based on woodland. The Woodland Trust wishes to see the countryside in its entirety put in good heart again, action which will benefit woodland because it is itself a crucial part of the fabric and character of the countryside in virtually every corner of Britain. We also believe that there is a good deal that agriculture can learn from forestry and a need for closer integration between the two sectors. Consequently, our response will strongly focus upon this theme.

  The Woodland Trust believes that farmers possess valuable skills in caring for the countryside and many are engaged in doing so already but agricultural policy itself is severely in need of reform. The CAP in its quest for higher yields has encouraged the destruction of many wildlife features in the countryside such as irreplaceable ancient woods, has created only limited new opportunities for public enjoyment of the countryside and has helped to undermine understanding between town and country.

  The widely desired aim of a countryside which is defined by quality, more extensive farming, local decision-making and employment, a strong sense of community, sustainability, enhanced character and richness of wildlife is one within which woodland—"a true multi-use activity"—as the Rural White Paper so accurately put it,[22] has a significant role to play.

Applying the Experiences of the Forestry Sector

  Whilst there has been considerable debate on the future of the countryside recently we believe that forestry deserves a more prominent role in the debate than has been the case so far, not only as an alternative for agriculture land coming out of production, providing jobs, public access and biodiversity benefits, but because there are significant parallels between forestry and farming in terms of moving to provision of wider public benefits and useful lessons which can be learned.

  Forestry is the second largest rural land use after farming and like the latter we believe its viability is increasingly dependent upon the provision of public benefits, such as biodiversity, sustainable produce, local markets and access. At a time when it is widely recognised that farming must move away from an approach which is preoccupied with production of undifferentiated commodities traded on a world market to one which focuses more widely upon the provision of such benefits the experience of forestry is an especially relevant one.

  Over the past 20 years, forestry has moved from an approach which was so heavily pre-occupied with timber production as to undermine public support for the sector through its negative impact upon the environment and landscapes, towards an increasingly successful provision of wider benefits which are valued by the public such as wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities, although the range of benefits provided by forestry runs far more widely than this.

  We believe that the challenge for farming is to achieve a similar shift, which could be helped by developing two processes through which forestry has already passed, albeit not without considerable effort, collaboration and robust dialogue over many years.

  Firstly, England, Scotland and Wales all possess forestry strategies (a Northern Ireland one is in preparation focusing upon the contribution which forestry can bring to life in each country. The England Forestry Strategy, published in 1998 was an especially ground breaking document with four over arching themes: Forestry for rural development, forestry for access, recreation and tourism, forestry for conservation and environment, and forestry for economic regeneration. The same strategic thinking reflecting the provision of public benefits needs to be undertaken in the farming industry.

  Secondly, forestry in the UK possesses its own Government Standard—the UK Forestry Standard which sets down minimum environmental and social requirements for forestry operations and as the House of Commons Agriculture Committee itself noted earlier this year, "provides a framework for forestry policy throughout the UK".[23] This in itself is reinforced through the UK Woodland Assurance Scheme, a voluntary system for independent certification of forest management. This scheme in turn is mutually recognised by the Forest Stewardship Council, an international labelling scheme which provides consumers with the confidence that the products they have purchased have come from sustainably managed woodlands.

  We believe that there is a strong case for the development of a UK Farming Standard along the lines of the model described here in the forestry sector, serving to build upon, strengthen and bring together the standards required under the NFU's "Little Red Tractor" assurance and other schemes. The Standard should apply across all farms however and be underpinned by a basic set of environmental parameters which are reinforced through the use of cross-compliance and the kind of "broad and shallow" type of stewardship model represented by the Tir Cymen pilot scheme in Wales. For example, we believe that there should be a minimum wildlife habitat requirement on all farms and standards by which it should be managed.

  These two processes, of a strategy and a standard are worthy of serious examination by the farming sector in order to achieve a shift to a more outward looking stewardship which takes account of the need to ensure public confidence and to deliver wider non-market benefits which are valued and increasingly required by society.

Production Subsidies and Quotas

  We therefore firmly believe that there is a need to move away from a production oriented approach to one which places a greater emphasis upon rewarding the provision of benefits that are valued by the public. We recommend that the Government increases funding for rural development measures by taking two particular steps. Firstly, by the UK seeking a greater share of EU funds at the mid-term review and secondly, by the UK committing to further modulation between 2003 and 2006. Modulation beyond the existing 4.5 per cent should not be applied at a flat rate but should be targeted at large farm businesses which receive the greatest share of CAP production subsidies and will be best equipped to withstand cuts in such subsidies. Rural development initiatives should be supported with at least 20 per cent of the agriculture budget.

  We believe that the UK should lobby for 80 per cent degressivity in the next round of CAP talks and push for reforms which will allow forestry to compete on a more level playing field with agriculture as a land use in rural areas rather than the present distorting effect which the CAP has on land values. There is also a need in general for more bespoke forestry measures under the Rural Development Regulation and to grasp opportunities to develop genuinely innovative schemes through the RDR which promote rural diversification and greater integration of farming and forestry, rather than simply directing EU money through the usual routes of the Woodland Grant Scheme and Farm Woodland Premium Scheme.


  A more economically diverse and physically beautiful countryside can also be a prosperous one. A more diverse farming sector which is better integrated with sectors such as forestry will enhance the environment, economy and society by providing a wide variety of benefits such as better management of the landscape and regard for wildlife along with an enhanced rural economy which is host to a broader range of businesses. The significance of areas such as the New Forest and the Wye Valley as centres of tourist activity based upon a backdrop of well wooded landscapes is worth noting here, as is the overall regeneration contribution of the National Forest in the Midlands which is delivering a very wide range of Government sustainable development indicators. The National Forest's contribution has recently been the subject of a study carried out by the University of Derby.[24]

  Such diversification can benefit society at large by increasing employment and by providing a more accessible and attractive countryside for all to enjoy whilst benefiting consumers by providing increased choice and quality of products. With regard to the latter issue, we believe it is also important to educate consumers through proper labelling in order that they can make informed choices as to the risks posed by cheap food in terms of environmental degradation, animal welfare and their own health.

  Achieving a more sustainable countryside requires recognition that farming does not take place in isolation and that action is needed to achieve area wide benefits at the landscape scale. The current convergence of interests between farmers, foresters and other land managers is considerable and imagination is now required in order to ensure that opportunities for placing the countryside as a whole on a more sustainable footing are grasped and that good stewardship in which many farmers are already engaged is properly rewarded. Such closer integration is vital in order to properly address issues such as the provision of quality countryside access and the health benefits it brings, the protection of critical habitats such as semi-natural ancient woodlands so many of which occur on farms, and protection of the critical resources of soil, water and air.

  Properly resourced, forestry can provide farmers with viable and sustainable diversification options for the future. Native woodland is in many ways a model land use for aiding sustainable rural regeneration; it provides a renewable harvestable resource, it can create social benefits, providing opportunities for recreation and enhancement of well-being, it also performs crucial environmental functions such as soil and water protection and habitats for wildlife, as long as it is sustainably managed and semi natural ancient woodland protected. Woodland therefore has the potential to be the catalyst for a new movement which can help to refresh the appearance of the countryside in the light of growing leisure demands, create genuine opportunities for wildlife to regain a foothold and set right the fragmentation of wild places over the last century, help to retain people in rural communities through local employment and contribute to our renewable energy obligations.


  Maximising the benefits provided by woods to both people and nature is central to the Woodland Trust's aims and objectives and the Trust has already been engaged in mapping areas of the country where such effort may be best concentrated in order to achieve these goals. It is clear that if woodland biodiversity is to be placed on a more sustainable footing then our ancient woods (the nation's richest habitat for wildlife, with 232 species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan) need to be protected from the impact of intensive land use by adding new woodland or other sympathetic land uses next to them in a way which makes for larger and more robust woods, both to protect them from external intensive land use but also to given them the space to adapt in the face of climate change.

  The agricultural matrix within which much of our wildlife must survive or through which it moves must be made more sympathetic to wildlife and more environmentally sustainable. Woodland and other semi-natural habitats are mutually beneficial to each other especially where concentrations of such habitats exist and where there is potential to increase their density further. If we are to achieve therefore the kind of significant biodiversity benefits desired by the public and allow as many species as possible to survive in a time of rapidly changing climate then this will necessitate, as discussed, much closer integration of farming and forestry funding schemes.

  In particular, we believe there is a strong case for the creation of a much larger, unified agri-environment scheme to involve the vast majority of farmers (the enormous popularity of the current over-subscribed Farm Woodland Premium Scheme is worth noting in this regard), placing new emphasis on achieving benefits at a landscape scale, targeting buffering and extension of semi-natural habitats and creating more favourable conditions for the creation of larger semi-natural habitats. We believe that wood pasture systems, which combine forestry and grazing may be an ideal way of continuing farming practices but at a much lower intensity within concentrations of ancient woodland. Wood pasture is an ideal example of a landscape sympathetic to wildlife, which can still produce agricultural product (meat) but also the kind of habitat that will produce a product with added wildlife and landscape value.

  Also central to the promotion of a lower intensity farming system which enhances biodiversity and fulfils a growing consumer demand, is the need to properly reward organic farming. We believe that there is a strong case for ensuring that organic farming is able to operate upon a more level playing field. This means that organic farmers should be eligible for the same payments received by any other farmers and that farmers making the choice to move to organic stewardship should be supported during the often difficult and uncertain post-conversion period. Organic farms should be rewarded for sensitive stewardship of the countryside through the kind of "broad and shallow" approach described earlier. They should also be equally as eligible for agri-environment schemes as any other farm. However such eligibility will especially benefit the organic sector since given the nature of the farming process involved it will be easier to achieve these "broad and shallow requirements" than on a conventional farm. It is likely that organic farms will also achieve higher payments for positive management of countryside features more easily than a conventional farm. Through such an approach organic farming may be both incentivised and supported after the conversion period.

Wood as a fuel

  There are also important opportunities arising through closer integration of forestry and farming to address the UK's renewable energy obligations which should be grasped. We favour a model where wood fuel from local woods is used by small-scale heat and electricity generating plants serving local users. This would create jobs in the local area, help to improve the local environment and ensure that the impact of transportation is kept to a minimum. It is possible for example, to envisage local leisure centres and schools utilising Combined Heat and Power (CHP) schemes along such lines.


  We believe that there is a need for more funds to be allocated for further research into sustainable farming practices and that the moratorium on commercial growth of GMOs should be maintained until trials have shown that they pose no threat to the environment. It is vital that DEFRA drive forward research into the kind of public benefits that are to be derived from the farming industry of the future. Research strategies need to better reflect the objectives of the newly created DEFRA rather than the commercial concerns of bodies such as agro-chemical companies for example.

Training and Advice

  Finally and importantly, there is a clear need in an era of change and opportunity to develop a network of advisory services in rural areas (especially those areas where readjustment is likely to be most difficult), which offer integrated business and environmental advice. The provision of "one stop advisory shops" which offer information on sources of funding, can help prepare forward looking farm businesses and environmental plans, and give high quality advice is essential. The current Farm Business Advisory Service is insufficient to help farmers adapt to the present situation and there is a need for advisory services which can help farmers to focus less upon subsidised production and more upon responsiveness to market demand and diversification into areas such as forestry and the provision of non-market benefits.

12 December 2001

22   MAFF/DETR (2000), Our Countryside: the Future; a Fair Deal for Rural England, p 115. Back

23   HoC Agriculture Committee Fifth Report, Session 2000-01, "The Work of the Forestry Commission", p vi. Back

24   "The Social and Economic Impact of the National Forest . . . Much More Than Trees", University of Derby Research and Evaluation Service (2001). Back

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