One of the highlights in an otherwise surreal week was the excellent online conference ‘Accelerating Woodland Creation’ hosted by the Ecosystems Knowledge Network (EKN).
Despite restrictions that resulted in the conference and interactive workshops having to be delivered completely online, the energy and enthusiasm of the EKN team, and in particular their director Bruce Howard, succeeded in bringing together an event of the highest quality, with a fabulous diversity of contributors and debate.
Scope and Challenges
The conference brought together leaders across the sector including contributions from:-
- Rt. Hon. Lord Goldsmith (Forestry Minister);
- Sir William Worsley (Chairman Forestry Commission); and
- Richard Greenhous (Director of Forest Services Forestry Commission England).
The aim was to provide a forum to discuss the policy ambition to achieve some 10,000ha of tree planting and woodland creation in England by the end of the current parliament.
Lockhart Garratt Input
Our chairman John Lockhart was delighted to provide the keynote address to consider “The Business of Woodland Creation”. A copy of his presentation can be downloaded here, and a full video of the talk should be published shortly and will be accessible through our website.
The balance of the day was structured around a series of interactive workshops addressing the key challenges:-
- Building Confidence in the Business of Woodland Creation;
- Woodland Creation in and Around Urban Areas;
- National Capability for Accelerating Woodland Creation and Management; and
- Accelerating Woodland Creation – A Blueprint for Action
Between these sessions delegates were addressed and able to present questions to both the Forestry Minister and the Chairman of the Forestry Commission.
Key Messages and Outcomes
Despite the huge breadth of inputs and discussions across the day, some key themes and messages did start to emerge.
- Leadership: Lessons from Scotland’s recent woodland creation successes consistently point to the need for commitment and leadership from the top, and it was vastly encouraging to hear the passion and consistency of message from Lord Goldsmith, Sir William and Richard Greenhous. The message to the sector was to challenge and support government and the Commission to meet our shared objectives.
- Support: It was acknowledged by all that support through both policy and grant funding will be critical with woodland needing to claim a significant share of the recently announced £640million Nature for Climate fund.
- Investment: Opportunities for private sector blended finance to support government grant funding will be critical. Private sector investment funds need scale and all parties will need to work to find vehicles that can meet these requirements.
- Land : Nothing can move forward without land to plant and whilst there are huge cultural challenges to shift, in particular agricultural land into woodland, Scotland has proven that it can be done and the current shift in agricultural policy away from production support offers a unique opportunity. In addition to this we need to be thinking about the possible contribution for old mineral and landfill sites. Landfill sites alone extend to some 140,000ha or 0.85% of the land area of England and Wales. Mapping of land suitable for woodland creation will be key.
- Resources: It will be critical to have the right skills and resources, both within the Forestry Commission as regulator and within the private sector to secure delivery. We need to widen forestry skills and understanding in to the agriculture and landowning sectors.
- Policy: Forestry and woodland are a long term commitment and a secure and long term policy framework will be crucial.
- Culture: The wider benefits and value of woodland and forestry need to be more widely promoted and understood and we need to develop a robust woodland culture.
- Business: Forestry and woodland creation need to be established as a real business opportunity for the landowning sector, with the true value of the long term (permanent) benefits in terms of public goods such as water quality, flood prevention, carbon sequestration and material substitution, air quality, landscape and health and wellbeing, available to be captured by landowners and investors.
In the current strange and unnerving times it was wonderful to be able to be able to focus our minds on the positive and long term benefits that new woodland could bring, and ones that will be with us long after the current Coronavirus outbreak is just a distant memory.