After the virtual event to launch the England Trees Action Plan earlier this week, the Institute’s Executive Director, Shireen Chambers MBE FICFor, has written to George Eustice, UK Environment Secretary, to express concerns over the lack of focus on the role that trees and wood products will play in the green recovery. Please read the full letter below.
19th May 2021
Dear Mr Eustice
It was very good to see the England Trees Action Plan finally launched yesterday – we welcome its objectives and its approach.
However, I was disappointed with the forum chosen for the launch of this important document. By subsuming it into a Wildlife Trusts broadcast covering a range of interventions focussed on nature, the impression was that the government is creating woodlands just to improve biodiversity instead of the myriad and complementary benefits they provide. There was very little attention yesterday on the vital role that trees and wood products have to play in the green recovery.
I realise that our drive for woodland creation is very much aligned with the climate mitigation and nature recovery targets but these cannot be the only objectives, ignoring the fiscal reality of what drives most woodland creation and management. I know this is recognised in the Plan itself but we must bring the public along with us or we will fail. We risk reinforcing a myth that cutting down trees is bad and undermining meaningful conversation about the enormous benefit to society that wood products have, not to mention ensuring continuing investment from companies that get more than just a carbon return for their money.
I am increasingly concerned at the lack of public and indeed political awareness of the facts: we import 80% of our timber needs; cellulose is used in just about every product application from textiles to pharmaceuticals, furniture to car parts, films, wraps, paper and cardboard; we now use wood products to give us hemicellulose and lignin to create toothpaste and low calorie sweeteners. Our demand for wood products is growing exponentially, and in addition the world is in the midst of a housing crisis with a global mass migration to cities. The UN predicts that 66% of the world’s population will be resident in urban areas by 2050. The emergence of cross-laminated timber over the last two decades has provided a viable alternative to concrete and steel construction which will be needed for the UK’s housing shortage.
The Plan itself recognises the economic objectives to woodland creation; my concern is with the messaging such as given yesterday. It will be so much harder to create woodlands that will deliver all our requirements if the headlines simply reinforce the public’s misconceptions around forestry.
The Institute has urged Defra to look to us as an informal sounding board, sector leader, standard setter and convener of experts, in whatever way we can support the ambitions of the England Trees Action Plan and of this government. I hope you will do the same.
I look forward to a response.
Shireen Chambers MBE FICFor