Throughout the world, much attention has been devoted of late to sustainable practices in building and construction.
In England, a lot of that debate has recently centred around value provided by the country’s woodlands and forests and the need for sustainable forestry management practices to evolve going forward.
Such importance was highlighted by the release earlier this month of a report by the Independent Panel on Forestry, a panel set up to advise the government on forestry and woodland policy.
That report calls for the benefits of England’s woodlands and forests to be re-valued for all the services they provide. Along with wood being the raw material for timber frame buildings, as well as furniture, flooring, fuel and course paper, these benefits include recreation, clean air, clean water, habitats for wildlife, locking up carbon, shading in cities and even flood reduction.
The report also highlights what it calls the ‘triple bottom line’ that forestry delivers and calls for a revival of woodland culture that appreciates how important trees are for people, nature and the economy (not to mention the nation’s construction industry).
Speaking on behalf of the panel members, The Right Reverend James Jones, Bishop of Liverpool says that if managed sustainably, England’s woodlands can offer solutions to some of the most pressing challenges facing British society today.
Jones says the nation’s forests must be managed for the long term, and that management strategies must be free of politics and electoral cycles.
“There is untapped potential within England’s woodlands to create jobs, to sustain skills and livelihoods, to improve the health and wellbeing of people and to provide better and more connected places for nature” Jones says.
“Most importantly, the public forest estate needs to be free from the electoral cycle, for trees have long lifecycles – decisions taken now are looking to a future that is 50, or even 100, years down the line”.
The panel recommended a new charter to govern the nation’s public forest estate – currently the single largest source of timber production in the country.
It also called for more sustainable management of the 80% of England’s woodlands which are outside the public forest estate.
Toward this end, it recommended that a separate forest services organisation be set up to work with private land owners to help them manage their woods, increase timber production and generate a woodland ‘culture’.
Overall the panel recommended the nation’s woodland cover be extended from around 10% now to 15% in 2060.
Both government and the timber industry bodies say they welcome the report and the attention in focuses on the need to build on and improve forestry management practices.
Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, says that the report has given Britain’s policy makers and citizens a vision for how a more vibrant future for England’s woods and forests can be achieved.
John White, Chief Executive of the Timber Trade Federation, says the report shows the multiple value streams the economy, environment and society can derive from an active forestry and timber sector.
In particular, White says he strongly supports a recommendation in the report that wood-based industries be a priority area for investment by the nation’s Green Investment Bank.
“We have long argued that the supply chain can be a major driver in low-carbon growth and this report highlights that” White says.
“We have the evidence, now it is time to act.”
The government is expected to consider the report and make a more complete response by January next year.