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British Woodland Crisis

On a beautiful Spring day, as we have experienced over the last few weeks there is nothing more pleasurable than walking through one of our wonderful native woodlands. The peace, tranquillity and beauty of this environment intermittently broken by birdsong – it doesn’t get much better!

As I recently walked with my wife, daughter and our young Labrador in one of the local Duchy of Cornwall woodlands I began to wonder what we have to do to create more woodland across the UK.

A recent article in the Times by Ben Webster highlighted the ‘tortuous bureaucracy’ being at the root of the woodland crisis. Did you know that England has the lowest percentage of woodland cover in the whole of Europe with only 10% of our land covered in trees compared to some of the larger countries such as France, Germany and Italy having over 30% coverage.

Last year, creation of new woodland fell to its lowest level ever with only 700 hectares of woodland being planted against a target of 5,000 needed per year to reach the government’s target of increasing England’s land coverage to 12%.

What’s the concern you may ask? Well, trees are undoubtedly good for us. Not only do they absorb tonnes and tonnes of CO2 as they grow, but they provide us with valuable timber that we use in our homes, inside and out. Think how much of your house is built of timber, and then there is the garden, whether it be the timber fence that surrounds you, or the chair you sit on. Its fundamental to our lives. And then of course there is the fuel that many of us use to heat our homes – firewood in the wood burning stoves or perhaps fuel for our cooker, pizza oven or fire pit. And even when we have considered the physical aspects of wood, think again at the wonders of being able to walk miles and miles through our forests and woodlands with our family and pets.

In order to encourage more, much needed tree planting the government needs to act fast. Beccy Speight, Woodland Trust’s chief executive said “Government policy is failing forestry catastrophically and urgent action is required. Grant systems are complex and restrictive and protection of ancient woodland is weak”.

Hopefully the government is now waking up to the problem as the recent BBC Countryfile programme about the woodland crisis was aired on Sunday evening to over 7 million viewers. The industry is calling for just one organisation – The Forestry Commission, to handle woodland grants and management as opposed to the existing position in which landowners need to deal with the Rural Payments Agency, Natural England and the Forestry Commission. This is where the problem lies – far too much bureaucracy according to the MP’s report. Haven’t we heard it all before!

However, don’t now think that you need to stop burning wood in your stove, or buying British timber for fear of depleting our woodlands. You need to do the opposite, support this wonderful rural industry that employs so many people, and by creating more demand, government will wake up to the opportunities that this truly sustainable material and fuel can provide and most of all let’s all support and encourage more woodland creation.

3rd April 2017
Nic Snell

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