Investment and Involvement14 October 2014
Dougal Driver, chief executive of the Grown in Britain campaign, explains the benefits of investing in British woodlands and forest businesses
Grown in Britain is looking for partners to deliver high quality woodland management and woodland creation projects that will provide timber and a range of other ecosystem services in the long term. These projects will move forestry towards a more robust, financially secure future and represent an opportunity to help deliver a British-based initiative that will provide tangible, measurable benefits to the economy, society and the environment.
Woodland accounts for just 13% of the total land area of the UK, well below the EU average of 37%. All of the woodland in the UK has been managed to produce timber at some time; we have no pristine forest.
The biodiversity we enjoy today has been shaped over the centuries by management patterns that alter light and temperature levels at the forest floor and throughout the forest canopy. Different species occupy different niches present in this patchwork. Benign neglect of woodland leads to homogeneous, colder, darker places less able to support the range of species valued by society and a lack of management may reduce the yield and quality of the timber present in the wood and limit the uses. As labour markets and international trade changed during the 20th century, a large area of broadleaved woodland fell into neglect. In England it is estimated that around 47% of all woodland is unmanaged. Modest areas of forest cover combined with a lack of productive woodland management and an increasing population have resulted in the UK becoming the world's third largest net importer of forest products behind Japan and China.
Softwood production is set to peak within the next 30 years which could further increase our reliance on imports unless new, production focused woodlands are created in the immediate future.
Forestry and timber processing supports around 58,000 jobs and contributes around £1.7bn to the British economy each year. While the softwood sector enjoys good trading conditions, market failure is almost complete in some parts of the supply chains, notably in the hardwood supply chains. Grown in Britain is working to consolidate and expand the hardwood milling capacity and make more of this abundant resource.
We are beginning to bring investment into high value timber products, including cross-laminated timber (CLT) and thermally modified wood. Both products are in demand by our construction partners and neither are currently manufactured in the UK. We have also funded a unique field trial for methods of preserving British softwood fencing.
The developing bioenergy market also offers forestry big opportunities. The annual value of the renewable heat markets is in the region of £50m and has the potential to quadruple by 2020, saving 3 million tonnes of CO2 a year. Grown in Britain is working to ensure this fast-moving market benefits British forestry businesses and wildlife and has started to develop business models aimed at bringing neglected broadleaved woodland into production.
The natural capital provided by forests and woodlands is relied upon by thousands of businesses in the forestry, tourism, retail, construction and leisure sectors. It provides oxygen, habitat for wildlife and helps to regulate our climate and water supply. Perhaps less obviously, research shows that broadleaf woodland provides more nectar per hectare per year than improved grassland, shrub heath, fen and bog and that conifer provides more than arable farmland. This highlights the role that woodland could have in projects aimed at conserving pollinators such as bees.
Government research into the value of changes in biodiversity and associated ecosystem services from the delivery of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan show that woodland provides £166m of net benefit per year, more than upland heath, improved grassland, hedgerows and lowland calcareous grassland. The positive impact that visits to woodland can have on health and well-being are already recognised by society.
Research in Scotland showed that 82% of the Scottish adult population agree that woodlands are places to reduce stress and anxiety, while 79% agree that woodlands are places to exercise and keep fit. It is estimated that there are around 250 million day visits to woodlands each year and the annual value of recreation in Britain's forests is worth around £484m to the economy.
The UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) outlines government's approach to sustainable woodland management. The UKFS is based on internationally agreed criteria and indicators designed to protect or improve forest condition and the services woodlands provide. The Timber Procurement Policy operated by Defra and Bioenergy Sustainability Criteria designed by DECC are aligned to UKFS. The UKFS forms the basis of our methodology for recording the impact of woodland management and creation projects and our licensing system is based on evidence demonstrating compliance with UKFS. All Grown in Britain woodland projects are compliant with UKFS.