As I’ve said many times, the UK is the second largest net importer of timber in the world after China. Generally speaking, we’ve also always taken a world view – recognising we have an interest in, and responsibility for, what happens beyond our borders.
Given global events, it can be easy to forget Scotland hosted COP26 ten months ago, where the Glasgow Declaration on Forests was signed, committing countries to tackle deforestation and protect biodiversity. In Scotland, we’re expanding our forest area and creating more places for biodiversity, but the Declaration reminds us we need to be aware of how our actions impact on fragile forests overseas.
That awareness is at the heart of a new report by environmental group Friends of the Earth (FoE), Why We Need More Trees in the UK. It argues for much more ambitious tree planting targets, recognising the carbon and wider benefits, and sets that case in the context of the UK’s global responsibilities.
A gathering number of international reports point towards significantly greater consumption of wood products in the coming decades. Population growth and economic development are key drivers, but demand is also being driven by the low-carbon credentials of using more wood; substituting steel, concrete, brick and plastics with wood will help achieve net zero.
If the UK consumption of wood continues to increase at the pace it has for the last decade, demand will rise by an estimated 78 per cent by 2050. That needs to be set against the results of the recent forecast of UK wood availability, showing domestic supply falling from the 2040s.
Securing the wood we need for our everyday lives and achieving net zero is a long-term challenge, but one that requires immediate action. It takes 30 years for even the fastest trees to grow.
The FoE report recognises these challenges in a global context, and calls for much more planting of wood-producing trees in the UK to address that long-term timber demand, avoiding ever-increasing imports that will combine with soaring global demand to place growing pressure on fragile forests overseas.
The FoE report also recognises the multiple benefits of tree planting. It describes “the importance of trees for nature, carbon storage, public health, resilient agriculture and timber production”. It recognises all these benefits can be delivered simultaneously and are not mutually exclusive.
Confor has consistently argued for a mosaic of tree planting, a variety of forests; some planted to enhance the biodiversity and attractiveness of our rural and urban areas, others focused more on supporting rural economies and helping to fulfil our future timber demand.
Growing more of the wood we use is unquestionably a sustainable and environmentally friendly course of action.
As Barack Obama said, we must come together and Confor has always been eager to collaborate with others. As I say in my supportive quote for the FoE report: “Confor is ready and eager to discuss with the government, conservationists and farmers how a much expanded industry can deliver jobs, carbon and nature benefits.”
I look forward to further partnership working with those who recognise that real progress is always based on working together – and thinking globally and acting locally.
Stuart Goodall is Chief Executive of Confor: Promoting forestry and wood