21 June 2018
The Minister for Environment, Hannah Blythyn, is due to make a statement in the Assembly on woodland strategy on 26 June.
In a previous statement, on 17 April, she identified increasing woodland cover as one of her five priorities for the environment and said she would bring a refreshed woodland strategy to the Assembly before the summer recess.
Wales is one of the least wooded countries in Europe with only about 15% of the country’s land area covered by woodland, compared to the EU average of 37%.
The Welsh Government’s current strategy, Woodlands for Wales, was published in 2001 and revised in 2009. The strategy sets a 50 year vision and has four themes:
- responding to climate change;
- woodlands for people;
- a competitive and integrated forest sector; and
- environmental quality.
The strategy is accompanied by a five-year action plan (2015-2020) which sets an ambitious target of 2,000 hectares of new planting per annum.
The previous target had been an even more ambitious 5,000 ha per annum, and was set out in the Welsh Government’s Climate Change Strategy (2010).
The Assembly’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs (CCERA) Committee looked into woodland policy in 2017. The inquiry report, Branching out: a new ambition for woodland policies (PDF 1MB), was launched at the Royal Welsh Show in July 2017 and debated in the Assembly in December.
The Committee found that planting rates were significantly below what is required to meet the Welsh Government’s target and recommended that the woodland strategy be refreshed as a matter of urgency. The Committee emphasised the need to increase woodland cover to make the most of the broad range of economic, environmental and social benefits that woodland can provide.
It also highlighted the opportunity to bring commercial forestry and agriculture together in a more joined-up land management policy after Brexit.
Other recommendations included:
- using woodland as a regeneration tool, including establishing a national forest company to help regenerate the south Wales valleys and increasing support for community woodland groups;
- increasing public access opportunities on the public woodland estate, particularly for marginalised groups;
- promoting woodlands as a nature-based solution to tackling the effects of climate change, both as carbon sinks and by helping to manage flood risk;
- addressing constraints on commercial forestry and setting targets for increased self-sufficiency in timber production;
- promoting the use of timber in construction; and
- increasing tree cover in urban areas.
The Welsh Government accepted 12 of the Committee’s 13 recommendations (PDF 239KB), albeit nine only in principle.
The Committee reiterated its view on the need to plant more trees in its annual report on the Welsh Government’s progress on climate change mitigation (PDF 655KB), published in May.
A summary of the Committee’s woodlands inquiry can be found in this blog post published prior to the Assembly debate, and general background can be found in these Research Service publications: Woodlands in Wales (PDF 1MB); and Woodland creation in European countries (PDF 1MB).
Coed Cadw (the Woodland Trust), Sustainable Land Management: How woods and trees can deliver public goods in Wales
Wales Environment Link, A sustainable land management vision for Wales (PDF 9.1MB)
Article by Elfyn Henderson, National Assembly for Wales Research Service