Memorandum submitted by The Woodland Trust
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
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.
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
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
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
ministryMAFF. 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
It is also often unclear who is taking the lead
of forestry mattersa 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".
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
Is there a need for more concerted effort to protect
Ancient woodland is one of the great glories
of our natural and cultural heritageit 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
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