Royal Welsh Show 2018 (23 – 26 July)

The Royal Welsh Show is one of the pinnacle events in the British agricultural calendar, four packed days of competitions, workshops, discussions, displays and record crowds, blessed with glorious weather, and a smattering of very welcome rain. There was inevitably much talk about Brexit, and land use change, with uncertainty around the future of traditional farming. This in turn led to increased interest in the Forestry and Woodland Sector, as a possible source of alternative options for land owners and farmers.

Large Audience in a marque listing to presentations at Green Gold event prganised by Confor

Speakers and audience at the “Green Gold” workshop organised by Confor at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show July 2018

The focus on forestry extended beyond the traditional players, such as Confor portraying timber as ‘Green Gold’, with Welsh Government Ministers Hannah Blythyn (Minister for Environment) and Eluned Morgan (Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning) spending time visiting the Forestry Sector at the Royal Welsh Show. Engaging with Confor, Coed Cymru and Wood Knowledge Wales it is apparent that Government sees forestry as an important tool in future land use and delivering all aspects of the Wellbeing and Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.

Bill McDonald  of the Welsh Government Forestry Policy Team urged people to get involved and share views on land use change. This can be done now by engaging with the WG consultation, “Support for Welsh Farmers after Brexit”. The consultation is open until 30 October.

Whatever happens with future agricultural policy, there is an acceptance that at a minimum we must accept that Wales is already well behind, “our aim to achieve at least the minimum planting rate of 2,000 ha each year from 2020”.  Addressing, and reversing this trend can deliver multiple benefits such as employment, carbon sequestration, amenity facilities, improved air and water quality. A number of sessions around the show, many featuring partners in Wood Knowledge Wales Home Grown Homes project, began the process of meeting the current challenges of Forestry and delivering its full potential.

Establishing new forestry currently involves significant upfront capital investment which few farmers are able to afford. To support farmers to plant their land with trees, substantial grants are currently deployed. Coed Cymru, as part of the Home Grown Homes Project, will be looking at current support for farmers and also exploring other business models to help Wales increasing its forest cover and provide the resources we need to reduce our dependence on imports.

In order for this forestry and woodland development to be accepted, embraced and valued by our communities our sector needs to start removing barriers and become more proactive in promoting a positive narrative about our sector. Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, urged those present at the Green Gold session in the Confor tent at the Royal Welsh Show to get involved and use newspaper articles and social media to promote the sector and its benefits. For the RWAS Confor had put together an excellent guidance note on stakeholder engagement including some key ‘lessons learnt’, list of helpful resources and also a one page summary of, “Why Wales needs more Trees”.

One element of this narrative will be improving real and perceived domestic timber quality. Climate change, species selection, seed selection, planting density, thinning and pruning were expertly covered by Tim Liddon (Conifer Breeding Co-operative) and Paul Mclean (Forest Research). Good quality saw logs are required and are starting to receive a premium. This is only likely to increase as demand for timber worldwide increases and Brexit brings uncertainty with exchange rates and supply.

Simon Inkson, Powys County Council provided the audience at the Green Gold session, with details about Prosiect Tai o Bren Cynhenid / Home Grown Homes Project. This project, funded by the European Fund for Rural Development programme aims to address the loss of young economically active households from our communities by creating jobs in the growth, harvesting, processing and manufacture of homes from natural timber resources grown in our rural communities. The project has lots of skilled, knowledgeable individuals and organisations to draw upon and a committed team of project partners. Issues that will be addressed in the project included a business plan for funding new planting, skills and training across the whole supply chain and how to deliver quality homes using offsite manufacture.

So in summary the key take home messages for me from the Forestry and Woodland Sector at the Royal Welsh Show were that we are in a period of flux caused by both Brexit and climate change. We need to be targeting self-sufficiency in timber production in the long-term and Wales must start planting those trees now. By planting we will help protect our economy and environment while also delivering a brighter future for our rural communities.

Although this was probably one of the most intense periods of interest in the forestry sector at Builth Wells, it is fair to say that the absence of Martin Bishop of Confor Wales, tragically killed pursuing one of his many passions in a light plane, was keenly felt. It is a measure of the man that such a huge event could feel so radically different for his absence. He will be sorely missed for many years to come.