In early October, we sent this position paper to Ministers across the UK detailing our serious concerns about the skills shortage in our sector, which we believe puts climate targets at risk. The paper cited projected workforce shortages, a crisis in further and higher education, lack of awareness of careers with trees – essentially, a major shortfall in what is needed for the complexity of modern, sustainable forestry.Read position paper
We are pleased to have received a response from The Rt Hon the Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park on 2 November and we look forward to meeting with him, and policy officials from Defra, to discuss further.
Please see his full response below.
2 November 2021
Thank you for your emails of 7 October to the Environment Secretary and Business Secretary, and for the attached paper, about your concerns of possible labour shortages within the forestry sector. I am replying as the Minister responsible for forestry policy.
As you are aware, the England Trees Action Plan solidified our plans to increase the labour force of the forestry sector in the long-term. Defra will build capacity in the Forestry Commission and roll out training in core UK Forestry Standard skills and knowledge to Natural England and Environment Agency staff.
Prior to the Government increasing public ambitions on tree planting in 2019, in 2017 there were 13,000 people employed in the sector in England and Wales. This was already a significant increase since 2010 when the total was about 10,000. Through Nature for Climate Fund investment, and the aim to triple planting rates in England over this Parliament, we expect to continue that growth, increasing direct employment in the sector.
Nevertheless, we appreciate that our future workforce will need to be larger. The Forestry Skills Survey, published in August, outlined key recommendations for the forestry sector including highlighting an issue with recruitment and retention. We continue to work to provide more direct entrants throughout the supply chain, as well as exploring ways to deepen workforce skillsets to improve educational opportunities.
These actions include committing to support the Forestry Skills Forum to create a new Forestry Skills Action Plan for England, as well as supporting Forestry England to deliver apprenticeships and working with further education institutions to strengthen the training and skills development offer to foresters, arboriculturists and those working in the wider forestry supply chain.
Alongside supporting long-term solutions for the sector, I want to reassure you that we are also reacting to the current issues surrounding the labour shortage within the forestry sector. The expanded Seasonal Workers Pilot for 2021 continues to operate in the edible horticulture sector, to support farmers growing UK fruit and vegetables. We are currently scoping the potential to expand the Shortage Occupation List to industries relevant to the tree planting supply chain, which would allow seasonal workers in these industries to access the UK via the Seasonal Workers visa system.
Thank you for taking the time to write to raise this subject, and for your continued work in the forestry sector. I hope that you will continue to work closely with both Defra and the Forestry Commission on this matter. I would like to arrange a meeting to discuss this further alongside Defra policy officials.
Thank you once again for your emails.
With best wishes,
THE RT HON THE LORD GOLDSMITH OF RICHMOND PARK