The Forestry Commission must return to its roots and be given responsibility to reverse a tree planting crisis which threatens to plunge England into deforestation.
An “overly complex and bureaucratic” system for woodland creation has brought planting to a modern-day low, according to forestry and wood trade body Confor. It calculates that even the modest Government target of planting 11 million trees during the 2015-2020 parliamentary term will not be hit until summer 2027 – based on current woeful planting rates.
The highly critical report on Forestry in England published by the EFRA committee on Tuesday March 21, the International Day of Forests, calls on the Government to “reinstate a one-stop shop for forestry grants on day one of the UK’s exit from the European Union”.
Confor supports the call – but wants the Government to start the process now, giving the Forestry Commission full responsibility for the process, and for hitting the planting targets.
“We have an overly complex and bureaucratic system involving three bodies – Natural England, the Rural Payments Agency and Forestry Commission England – and it is simply not working,” said Confor Chief Executive Stuart Goodall.
“It is bureaucratic, confusing for applicants and – as I told the EFRA inquiry – not fit for purpose. The proof of policy failure is the disastrous year for tree planting in 2106 – the worst on record. 2017 looks little better and we face a real prospect of deforestation – something we associate with the Amazon, not England.
“The solution is to hand full powers for approving and funding new tree planting schemes to the Forestry Commission. It was set up in 1919 to plant trees and before it celebrates its 100th birthday, we need it to go back to its roots – and get trees planted. That includes taking full responsibility for planting targets.”
Mr Goodall said it could be done: “Scotland has a much more straightforward system and has taken further steps to streamline the application process. Its target is 10,000 hectares of new woodland every year, which it could hit in 2017, compared to England’s target of 1,000 hectares.
“England must embrace a system which allows tree planting to happen, to deliver wide-ranging economic, environmental and social benefits – creating rural jobs and investment, reducing the impact of climate change and flooding, and delivering beautiful modern forest habitats to support wildlife and recreation.”
Mr Goodall said the Government should immediately set up a pilot project for the Forestry Commission to take back full powers in the north of England, where there is substantial opportunity for new planting.
Chris Davies MP, Chair of Westminster’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry (APPGF), and a member of the EFRA committee, said: “We need radical action on planting in England as the current system is clearly not working – and I support Confor’s proposal for a simpler and more effective system which hands full powers back to the Forestry Commission.”