RFS and Brexit
The vote to leave the EU creates major uncertainty not least for rural land managers, including everybody with an active interest in the management of trees and woods. The decision is likely to result in more far-reaching changes to the rural economy than any in the last forty years. It is not clear what those changes will be or when they will start to take shape. This represents a once in a generation opportunity to address the barriers to more woodland creation and better woodland management and to create a brighter future for our trees and woods. It is vital that the voice of the forestry sector is heard in this process.
In the short term, uncertainty will have a serious impact on levels of activity in forestry. In July the RFS wrote to the new minister responisble for forestry, Dr Therese Coffey seeking her assurance that legacy contracts will be honoured and that new contracts for woodland creation and management will be fully funded until such time as a new scheme is in place. We were not alone in making this point and the government has since announced that “…agri-environment schemes, signed before the Autumn Statement will be fully funded, even when these projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU”. The future of Countryside Stewardship after the Autumn Statement is still unclear.
In Wales, Glastir scheme agreed contracts are expected to be honoured, and grant rounds that are already open are expected to continue.
The RFS has called on Defra to use the prospect of dismantling CAP to develop an integrated land use policy for England in which forestry’s material contribution to the economy, environment and society is properly valued. This is also an opportunity in Wales and Northern Ireland. The CAP is an active disincentive to planting trees as woodland is not included in pillar 1 basic payment schemes and is inadequately provided for under pillar 2 rural development programmes. The artificial distinction between agriculture and environment has ensured forestry is not properly integrated into public policy thinking. Trees deliver both environmental and economic benefits and are an essential component of a resilient and productive landscape. CONFOR, the CLA and Woodland Trust are in a similar place on this issue.
Brexit is also an opportunity to look afresh at the regulatory regime affecting forestry including plant health. This is a more complex area as much environmental legislation is enshrined in UK law and the future plant health regime will depend on the UK’s position with the single market. The sector will also need to ensure that forestry research, which is vital for the long term productivity and resilience of our trees is properly funded including continuing support for European research collaboration.
It is important that the forestry sector presents one voice to government on these issues. It will be a challenge to get the sector’s voice heard, but impossible if we don’t do it in a joined up way. The RFS is not a lobbying organisation, but its voice is well respected by policy makers and officials. The RFS has offered to work with CONFOR, who have already made very good progress developing a position on these issues, so that the collective views and experience of our diverse membership can be represented.
What the RFS is doing:
- Simon Lloyd, RFS CEO, attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry on 12 July. This group is convened by CONFOR and chaired by Chris Davies, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire. Simon urged the government to provide assurance on continuing funding of current and future forestry grants.
- Simon Lloyd wrote to the new minister responsible for forestry Dr Therese Coffey on 26 July setting out the major challenges facing the forestry sector, the opportunities Brexit creates to reassess policies impacting forestry from first principles and to encourage her to reassure woodland owners and managers about continuing funding of existing and new grants.
- Simon Lloyd and Stuart Goodall, CEO of Confor, were invited by David Gwillam of Prees Heath Nurseries, to meet his local MP, Owen Paterson on 20 August to discuss the steep decline in woodland creation in the last year and resulting negative impact on Prees Heath and other forest nurseries. David Gwillam has been forced to destroy thousands of saplings due to the collapse in new planting. Owen Paterson urged the forestry sector to move quickly to articulate its views on forestry post Brexit to government and offered his support to address the lack of woodland creation.
- The RFS will present a written submission to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee which has launched an inquiry into the role of Defra in supporting forestry and will consult members.