Examination of witnesses (Questions 100
WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER
and DR BOB
100. Do you have a discretion to say, "Sorry,
we cannot do this. It is not deliverable"?
(Mr Hill-Tout) Yes. We produced a draft Service Delivery
Agreement with our bidding proposals for the spending review which
had a whole series of targets which we thought would be achievable
if our funding bid was agreed. That was then not agreed and we
duly returned and revised those targets and said, "In the
light of the funds available, the original draft could not be
101. Your motto is really: "You get what
you pay for"?
(Mr Hill-Tout) Indeed.
102. Your targets are related closely to the
English Forestry Strategy. Are there different targets in Scotland
and Wales and how will this impact back on the English targets?
(Mr Bills) We have yet to conclude in Wales and in
Scotland there is still some holding out too. To be frank, they
are still waiting to see what kind of endowment they get from
taking forestry over post-devolution. There are constant themes
there. Obviously, the Rural Development Plans are important. Sustainability
is important also. There will be similar targets in those countries
but perhaps different emphases.
103. How is the volume of timber to be harvested
determined? Should market conditions play a role in the size of
(Mr Bills) Inevitably they do. There was probably
more grown in the United Kingdom forests this year than was cut.
There is some harvesting that you must do. You have to make the
judgment. Thinning, for example. Even if you just break even or
lose a little, it is a wise thing to do because if you do not
do it at a certain time in the cycle you will not do it and then
if you do not do it you do not get the quality of sawlog, which
is the higher value product towards the end of the rotation. We
might have to fell because of wind throw or the potential of wind
throw, like if we do not cut it now it could be eventually lost
in a gale on some of our less stable soils. The best plans can
be impacted also if we do have a major gale. We could end up with
more wood to sell in a certain region than we otherwise would
have anticipated. Yes. In general, over time, we ought to be matching
the market as best we can.
104. Presumably it is the great gales which
flooded most of France which are partly responsible for the price
(Mr Bills) There has been an element of that. It is
not as bad as we thought it would be. Perhaps where it has been
the worst has been in the high value timbers like oaks, which
are very valuable and well worthwhile bringing across the Channel.
105. The Service Delivery Agreement does not
refer to protecting forests. Do you imagine that your responsibility
for plant health and disease will continue? How can one assess
how effective you are in this? We talk about measuring outputs.
You said some are very difficulthow do people enjoy a forest?
The Treasury is keen on these sorts of things but how do you manage?
(Mr Bills) It is one of these measures where you can
say, "This did not happen. Therefore, it must be successful."
We are more than just the inspectorate at the ports. A lot of
our research and our research agency is backing up on appropriate
control measures, identifying risks and drawing up contingency
plans. If you ask how I can assess how effective we are, it is
quite clear that we continue to avoid many of the major diseases
which are about in continental Europe and which can arise from
north America. We do intercept a number of dangerous situations
at source, at the ports.
(Mr Hill-Tout) Protection covers both the plant health
areas that Mr Bills has been referring to but also the operation
of our felling regulatory responsibilities, which we take extremely
seriously and certainly our belief in the exercise of those duties.
The area of woodland and the composition of woodland is being
protected and secured. The area of challenge for us is in the
quality of those woodlands. Here, we are mindful that, in the
case of England, only about 38 per cent of all private woodlands
are under any kind of scheme with us. There may be relatively
insidious effects through the browsing activities of sheep or
deer, development pressures, that kind of thing that might be
going on. We are in the process at the moment of developing wider
indicators which we can measure with appropriate statistical sampling
systems to state very clearly the degree to which the woodlands
of the country are in a favourable conditions in relation to some
of the basic principles of ecological sustainability.
106. I notice that if you look at the restocking
that you are doing, the encouragement to extra forestry being
planted represents about a ten per cent increase in woodland.
Are your activities important on a national or international scale
at all in terms of our contribution to the greenhouse gases?
(Mr Bills) Probably not. There are 152 million tonnes
of carbon that this country produces. In order to sequester that,
we would have to plant out an area some four times the size of
the United Kingdom, which is clearly not possible.
107. If we compare what is involved to some
of our other initiatives which we are taking at the margins
(Mr Bills) The other way of looking at it is that
even on the 12.5 per cent government commitment for reduction
we would have to plant something like six million hectares of
forest where we only have 2.5 million now. The importance I think
is to get wood into structures because of the low embedded energy.
The opportunity in this country, particularly in England and Wales
where so little of our building is timber framed, is the opportunity
that needs to be pursued because you can build wonderful houses
out of it and this wood is non-toxic, biodegradable, recyclable
and solar powered. For that reason we have joined up with, strangely
enough, exporters into this country to put together a major wood
promotion called "Wood for Good" scheme, a £3 million
a year for three years scheme. The idea is to grow the cake, to
point out the environmental benefits of building with wood, but
recognising that what you are likely to do here within this country
in terms of sequestering is not going to be significant in terms
of the government's overall carbon plans.
108. How far down the road of genetic modification
are we in trees? What sort of things would you be looking to get
trees to do by that process?
(Mr Bills) In this country there is very little work.
We are not directly involved in any work in this country but obviouslyI
was a scientist onceit is not something we should ignore
in the longer term if we can get over the hurdles. The saw millers
would say, "Can you grow a square tree?" I have been
in other countries where there has been a lot of interest in the
glyphosate resistant gene, so that particularly in intensive forestry
circumstances you can apply a broad spectrum herbicide without
affecting the crop. Those sorts of things would be of interest.
The natural ones that tree breeders are looking for are also ones
that you may well look for in GMOs. They would be things like
enhanced growth rate, enhanced form but also resistance to pathogens
Chairman: Gentlemen, we could happily divert
on this for some time but that is not the purpose of asking you
to come here. Thank you very much indeed. You have undertaken
to send us a reasonable amount of material. We would be very grateful
to receive that, but we are thankful to you for coming and we
wish you a safe and as rapid as possible a journey home.