Head photo of Graham Hilton

Graham Hilton, Coed Cymru

At the start of 2020, most commentators held up climate change as the biggest threat to humanity, a title now sadly usurped by the coronavirus pandemic. Before this very imminent health threat stole the headlines, an unlikely coalition, from the UK Climate Change Commission (UKCCC) right to the US leading climate change denier and peddler of “alternative facts”, Donald Trump, was talking about the benefits of planting trees. Only this month, both Westminster and Cardiff announced renewed support for woodland, while, as part of the Home-Grown Homes project, Coed Cymru is due to report later this year on the commercial case for planting, managing and using more trees in Wales.

Expanding woodland cover in Wales

As a basis for expanding woodland cover in Wales, the creation of additional commercial forestry has much to recommend it. Overall forest cover in Europe has increased by around 30% since the end of the Second World War, with commercial forestry held to be responsible for up to 80% of this expansion. With an accelerated shift to wood use in construction, heavily supported by the partners of the Home-grown homes project, timber output from Welsh Forests is also a valuable asset, particularly given the UK’s high dependence on imports and the current fragile nature of European supply chains.

Reconciling competing priorities

The benefits of Welsh Forestry will need to satisfy a much wider range of demands than absorbing carbon and creating timber, with the needs of food production, urban woodlands or increased areas of wilderness, often set against one another for land, resources or public sentiment.
If we are to reconcile some of these competing priorities, we will need to engage with all of those with an interest in forestry and the land in Wales. We will need to optimise all the available benefits on a portfolio basis that supports appropriate solutions for every potential woodland, environment and community, moving away from notions of good and bad, one size fits all solutions.

Forestry and the farming community

Taking the farming community is a good example. Presented with a series of challenges around Brexit and the economic viability of elements of their land, they are told that they must diversify, but not what into! They are also told that Governments wish them to deliver public goods, an essential part of what they already do, but not what that might yet look like. And they are also told that their land is valuable for forestry, but for many this would involve selling the land, and with it their role as “producers”, both of which they hold very dear.

The recent government commitments to funding woodland expansion are very welcome, albeit at only 20% of the levels called for by the UKCCC. However, they still leave many uncertainties about securing the role and viability of local farmers and small landowners, beyond initial establishment.

Coed Cymru has been talking to organisations and individuals across the farming community, for the last three years, to prepare options for a range of long term woodland approaches, once Brexit and its resulting uncertainties are past (whenever that might be). We see an appetite amongst the farming community, in contrast to the perception of them being anti-forestry, to engage with woodland creation and management as part of the evolution of their role and their land.

Creating value for communities

It is important that these options also play to the interests of community groups and other landowners, both for involvement in woodland creation, and managing for a range of outcomes from re-wilding to urban woodlands, from commercial plantations to biodiverse native landscapes.

A key element of all new woodlands is the creation of value. In the case of Home-Grown Homes, the need for healthy, affordable, high quality homes is an enormous driver, for which the value is clear. Translating some of that value through a secure local supply chain will help deliver that housing and support our case for more and better woodlands in Wales.

At Coed Cymru we look forward to sharing more of the details of this work in the coming months. Graham Hilton.