Bigger, Better Forests is written by Benedict Aleenan for Policy Exchange, a UK think tank. The 90 page report covers topics such as the history of UK woodland policy, incentives, regulations, subsidies, opportunities for tree planting, stimulating demand for harvested wood products and how environmental land management services can be rewarded.
Access the full report HERE.
Increasing tree cover in the UK is a matter of land use policy.
This simple fact is often forgotten amid a rush to re-forest Britain through multiple schemes and interventions. This seemingly overlooks the fact that silviculture – the art and science of growing trees – is just one subset of land management.
In the last 25 years, several government-backed new forests have been established or proposed, from the mid-1990s National Forest to the most recent ‘Northern Forest’, which is to stretch across the North East and North West of England. Though laudable and important (we propose a project of our own in this report), these schemes alone are not sufficient to address more fundamental barriers to tree planting, many of which are the direct results of public subsidies for a particular model of farming.
Trees, both as a source of wood and as providers of valuable services in the landscape, have been sidelined and inadvertently disincentivised. To put it another way, they have been undervalued in the market of land uses. To ensure their proliferation in sufficient numbers to help address climate change and biodiversity loss, public policy must enable market mechanisms that value the full range of products and services that trees offer.
Tree-Related Principles for Policy Makers
Tree planting is more complicated than most people recognise. To help policy makers to approach the topic, we suggest the following principles.
1. We should use more wood from sustainable sources, especially in buildings.
Making houses and consumer products out of wood stores carbon, creates investment in trees and reduces our use of high-emissions materials like plastic, steel and concrete. Sourcing the wood from UK woodlands also protects our trees from imported pests and diseases.
2. Managed woodlands are good.
Managing a woodland can help to improve its health and resilience, maximise growth, support biodiversity, optimise carbon sequestration and improve economic returns.
3. There are many forms of woodland management and each has a part to play.
Policy should be designed to support the full range, including mature woodlands with extensive open ground, agroforestry and well designed closed-canopy plantations. Currently, some policies get the balance wrong, which complicates the sector and dissuades those who might otherwise be willing to invest in it.
4. Forestry and woodlands have a very long time-lag.
Trees are a long-term endeavour and returns take decades to arrive, which creates a problem in the short term. Policy should be designed to redress this lack of short-term cashflow. It must also plan at least three decades ahead. Policymakers should also seek to move towards market mechanisms, so that woodlands depend less on the whims of five-year parliamentary cycles and political fashions.
5. Trees do not preclude other uses of the same land.
It is possible for land to be used for a combination of timber growing, outdoor pursuits, nature conservation and farming. These practices can and should be seen as mutually beneficial, not mutually exclusive. Policy should reflect this capacity for diversity, but also recognise that many woodlands (or sections thereof) have a clear purpose – woodland should not be expected to be all things to all men.
6. Profitable woodlands beget more woodlands.
Although sensitive sites must be protected by law, we need more than just environmental protections to promote planting at the scale needed to reach net zero emissions. To ensure continued investment in trees at the scale required, there is a need for income from harvested wood and timber, tourism and payments for environmental services.
7. Forestry involves a specialist skillset.
Large parts of the UK do not have this skillset, which makes it harder for farmers to learn the skills and reap the rewards. If we want to see a transition towards more forestry, we need to support those whose communities and way of life will be affected. They need training to help them manage, conserve and/or harvest trees, as well as well-developed local supply chains that help them to sell timber and wood.
Access the full report HERE.