The government has recently issued its 25 year environment strategy. A weighty tome, the plan sets out plans across a range of government spheres of influence; land use, landscape protection, health and wellbeing, resource efficiency, marine conservation and the global environment. Importantly, the document is a strategy for the whole of government, not just the Environment Department (Defra), as shown by the Prime Minister’s Foreword.
The Forestry sector as a whole has welcomed the plan, due to the fact that it appears to give a higher profile to forestry and woodland management. The aspect that caught most attention in the press was of course the Northern Forest. This proposal is very ambitious (as well as being unfunded), and there is much detail to be fleshed out. However, it might offer opportunities for woodland owners in the areas between Leeds to Liverpool, so it will be worth becoming involved. We will be hearing more about the plans at the Community Forest event in March and so will be able to update members in the next available newsletter. The plan offered support for community forests in general, so there may be new life for woodlands around the larger cities across the Midlands and the South, in addition to the Northern Forest.
Two other aspects of the plan that we will be watching very closely are the new woodland creation scheme and the Tree Champion. The strategy commits Defra to a new woodland creation scheme – we would urge government to give the management of woodlands equal importance. There is little point in an increase in tree planting, if they simply become the abandoned woodlands of tomorrow. In another Innovation, a National Tree Champion is proposed to encourage joined up thinking, so will presumably seek to work across government, engaging departments on tree and forestry issues. An early area with which the Tree Champion should get involved would be the planning issues being raised by Neil Parrish currently in the House of Commons, on behalf of Small Woods members. Unlike some other organisations in the sector, we do not believe this role necessarily needs to be carried out by a forester, what is needed is a first class advocate who knows how to develop influence across government.
Overall, the plan sets out a direction for Multiple Objective Forestry – which is very much in line with Small Woods thinking – as we believe that all woodlands do and can play a number of functions, for environment, economy and people. To see woods simply in terms of their final crop value is to miss 90% of their real value. There is much to be welcomed in the new strategy, and we look forward to working with Defra and others to realise its ambitions.