Forestry has potential to deliver on rural jobs and economic growth - Stuart Goodall

In the news, we hear about food security, but not timber security – however in the coming years, as demand for wood increases both here and abroad, that is set to change.

Food security doesn’t mean producing all the food we eat – that is impractical, but it does mean having a measure of domestic resilience and not putting all our eggs in the basket marked ‘imports’. There is also customer interest in supporting local food production.

In recent years we’ve seen increased interest in where wood comes from, especially reassurance about the sustainable management of wood-producing forests. Unlike steel, concrete or brick, wood is a wholly natural material providing a recognisable link to nature.

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The versatility of wood, its attractiveness, and the low-energy production process and ability to lock away carbon mean the use of wood is on the rise, both here and abroad. This rising demand means availability will increasingly become an issue – wood security.

Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of forestry and wood trade body Confor

But do people also have an interest in local wood production?

A survey – Attitudes to Timber in the United Kingdom, carried out on our behalf by the Diffley Partnership – showed half of more than 1500 respondents thought it was important (or very important) that timber and wood products should be produced in Britain, just behind food and groceries, and in line with clothing and footwear.

Interestingly, of those that said the origin of timber and wood products was important, more than half said it was important for local industry/economic reasons, against 23 per cent whose primary concern was the positive impact on the environment and sustainability.

This is positive news for the forestry and wood processing sector which employs over 25,000 people in Scotland, mostly in rural areas, and adds £1 billion in annual value to the economy. The sector has seen huge growth in recent decades, with potential for much more.

As well as adding local economic value, planting trees and making wood products has a strong environmental impact, although more needs to be done to communicate that vital message. 55% of those questioned believe Scotland/UK is experiencing deforestation. This might be influenced by global news stories and images of tropical deforestation, but might also reflect the impression given when a mature forest is harvested here.

These forests will be replanted, and enhanced with a diversity of species and more space created between the forest and roads, burns and rivers. While there may have been net deforestation in England in recent years, Scotland’s forest area is increasing.

Interestingly, over half of respondents believe producing more domestic timber is beneficial for the environment – and two-thirds say there should be forest expansion. This builds on previous surveys showing enormous public support for growing more trees. Forest Research’s Public Opinion of Forestry 2021 showed 92 per cent of people believe “a lot more trees should be planted”, up from 80 per cent in 2011.

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As our planted forests mature and provide more jobs and enhanced benefits for people and for nature, and as more forests are planted, locking up carbon and contributing to net zero, it’s an exciting time for forestry.

But as this survey shows, we must keep telling the positive story of trees and wood, and how we can deliver even more for rural jobs, economic growth and the environment in the coming years and decades.

Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood

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