Westminster report sets out case for timber production in England’s forests

19 July 2023

A report by a House of Commons committee sets out the case for putting timber production back at the heart of forestry policymaking, according to Stuart Goodall, chief executive of forestry and wood trade body Confor.

The cross-party Environmental Audit Committee’s report makes it clear that the government should clearly set out how forestry in England will contribute to the delivery of objectives for timber as well as for nature recovery and climate.

“This welcome report highlights how a failed generation of policymaking has led to a decline in wood production in England, which will in turn harm efforts to achieve net zero by 2050 and mitigate a growing timber crisis,” said Mr Goodall. “This needs to be a watershed moment that puts timber production at the heart of policymaking in England, where it belongs.

“Importantly, it stresses what Confor has said for years: a sharp increase in timber production can be achieved at the same time as addressing the climate emergency and nature crisis. Economic and environmental benefits can be delivered in tandem. The very title of the report recognises this.”

The report - Seeing the wood for the trees: the contribution of the forestry and timber sectors to biodiversity and net zero goals – sets out the problem: “The World Bank estimates that global timber demand is set to quadruple by 2050. Demand in the UK is also expected to rise, in part because of the government’s commitment to promote timber use in construction as part of the UK’s Net Zero Strategy. The UK imported 81% of all its timber in 2021, making it the second highest net importer of wood in the world. Against this backdrop of increasing demand, the UK’s softwood timber supply is set to fall even further behind demand, with production forecast to peak in the late 2030s before falling back to current levels in the 2040s.”

“This analysis of productive timber supplies running out in the not-so-distant future is spot-on, and the UK needs to act now,” said Mr Goodall, “Confor has been heartened by the actions of the current forestry minister, Trudy Harrison MP, and I’d call on her to respond positively and constructively to this report. We need to remove the outdated stigma once and for all from softwood planting and deliver the modern forests that society needs.

“The report makes clear that we need to plant softwoods as a key component of our woodlands to provide the timber for the next generation – especially timber frames for hundreds of thousands of energy-efficient, warm, sustainable new homes.”

Mr Goodall also welcomed the report’s recognition that previous government strategies for the sector had not been well-integrated – and the need to establish “a clear and holistic long-term vision for all woodland creation types”.

The report says: “The government should clearly set out how forestry in England will contribute to the delivery of objectives for timber as well as for nature recovery and climate.”

It also calls for the Timber in Construction roadmap to address the afforestation commitment in the England Tree Action Plan, and “demonstrate how timber supply in future decades will help to meet growing demand for timber construction products, in a comprehensive, integrated and strategic way”.

While welcoming the UK government’s ambition on tree planting, the report notes that well under half of the annual target of 30,000ha of new woodlands (by the end of this parliament at the end of 2024) is being met.

It calls for overall tree planting targets to be divided into subcategories for the type of woodland needed to achieve different goals – and urges Forestry England to make its contribution to future timber supply by planting 2,000ha of new woodland annually by 2026.

“This is the call for a properly integrated and long-term vision for forestry that we have been asking for, for decades – getting planting done, and insisting that the private sector is encouraged to plant all types of woodland, with a strong focus on productive forestry to grow timber,” added Mr Goodall.

“Confor is currently leading on the development of a National Wood Strategy for England and that work chimes very closely with this report and we look forward to the government working with us to join the dots and make the vision in this report a reality.”

The report says: “We recommend that the government set a realistic long-term target for the amount of timber to be produced domestically… In tandem with this target, and in line with our earlier recommendations, we recommend the government determine the proportion of new woodland to be established under current targets which is to contribute to timber production.”

“This is the second time in this parliament that a committee of MPs has looked closely at forestry and tree planting – and come to similar conclusions,” said Mr Goodall. “The UK needs to do far more to prioritise domestic timber production. This is backed up by comprehensive analysis and reporting by the Climate Change Committee, highlighting that UK tree planting rates are simply not where they need to be and highlighting the role of productive forests.”

The committee will issue a separate report on deforestation after the summer recess, as part of its Sustainable Timber and Deforestation inquiry.

“Today’s report makes a compelling case for more forests to produce more home-grown wood to serve the UK’s needs. By doing this, we can over time, reduce pressure on fragile forests overseas. I look forward to this next report as this links closely with Confor’s work with Friends of the Earth to link low levels of tree planting in the UK with its global impact.”

Stuart Goodall