Natural England                            DEF0052


Written evidence submitted by Natural England


It was a pleasure to provide evidence to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Select Committee in December, as part of your evidence gathering for your inquiry into sustainable timber and deforestation. The committee suggested that we might provide further detail in relation to some of the points in the terms of reference.  Having consulted with colleagues at Natural England, we would would like to take that opportunity to add the following points which address the wider objectives of the inquiry.  I have not repeated the specific points we discussed in some detail at the session, especially around climate change.


Natural England recognises the benefits of increased domestic production of timber and associated products to support increased use of timber and reduce impacts in other parts of the world. Wood products, including biomass fuels, imported from overseas may not have the same level of environmental safeguards as we have domestically and greater transparency on the origins of imported timber and other wood products would be beneficial.This would enable a more thorough analysis of supply and demand pressures and better understanding of how we might substitute imports with home grown sources now and in future.


To address the nature and climate emergencies we we must embrace the creation of a range of woodlands types. To ensure nature’s recovery we need high quality native woodland creation, particularly  targeted to places where they expand and buffer our existing wildlife rich woodland resource so benefiting specialist woodland species which have suffered significant declines. We also need more productive woodlands, either largely focused on timber as in the case of non-native conifer plantations, or where timber production is sought alongside other outcomes, such as to provide amenity value, to deliver improvements in water or air quality and to benefit biodiversity. These multi-functional mixed woodlands can be established for and managed for a range of outcomes.  All types of woodlands can sequester carbon and as highlighted in a recent Forest Research report[1], over longer timescales, the contribution of different woodland types to climate change mitigation become closer to one another. Contributions from a range of woodland options will need to combine to deliver sustained carbon sequestration at all stages over the coming decades.


The protection, restoration and creation of native woodlands for biodiversity, carbon storage and other non-timber benefits are essential to deliver statutory and policy objectives.  Native woodlands support high levels of biodiversity; approximately a quarter of priority species (as listed under s41 of the NERC Act 2006) in England are associated with native woodland habitats and trees.  They are also important carbon stores as our review of Carbon Storage and Sequestration by Habitats showed[2]. The Nature Recovery additional contribution under the England Woodland Creation Offer is an important mechanism for enabling the creation of new native woodlands.  Conservation of natural forest ecosystems globally is essential to achieving Net Zero and reverse biodiversity loss.  As I noted in my oral evidence,  we need to show our domestic commitment to forest conservation if we are to support international action and targets, including the 30 x 30 (protection of 30% of land and sea area by 2030) goal of the Convention on Biological Diversity agreed at COP15 in December 2022.


Plantations of non-native species do support some biodiversity although this is far less than is supported by native woodland and typically comprises generalist rather than specialist species.Natural England is supporting Forest Research in undertaking a systematic evidence review of biodiversity in commercial forests which will help us to better understand how biodiversity can be maximised in these forestsWe welcome efforts to increase the biodiversity of forestry plantations dominated by non-native species suited to timber production, they should not however be seen as an alternative to biodiverse native woodland.


Many traditional forest management techniques are good for wildlife and a lack of management is often an issue for native woodlands. However, traditional management such as that practiced for charcoal or coppice products will invariably be small scale. Continuous cover or irregular forest management, as practised widely in French forests and on a number of estates in England is a management system that can deliver both for production and nature. Although there are few studies the available evidence suggests that, because this form of management creates heterogeneity within the forest structure and has plenty of natural regeneration and open patches; it can be good for nature even with non-native conifers. Where native woodlands are managed in this way this can create very nature-rich woodlands.

The introduction of new species of tree for timber or biomass production needs to take full account of the environmental impact of these species, including on biodiversity and water resources.  For example there is much interest in Paulownia but there is also evidence that it has a demand for water which may present problems in drier parts of the country and will require ongoing trials and monitoring.


All woodlands created, whatever their primary purpose, should conform to best practice with regard to resilience to the predicted increases in climate, pest and pathogen pressures. Much forestry practice to date has been inadequate in building resilience and represents a significant  risk to safeguarding future timber supplies and carbon stores. UKFS currently allows a single species to make up 75% of a forest. The current review of that standard looks likely to reduce that requirement to 65%. However, there is no stipulation as to how these trees are dispersed within the forest effectively meaning that in a 100ha project there can be a 75ha monoculture block. There is little or no compliance monitoring of UKFS and much of its content is non-mandatory. UKFS should be seen as a baseline below which forest practice should not fall rather than a target. UKWAS/FSC certification sets out better forest practice and is a requirement for access to certain markets.


The risks posed by a disease or pest outbreak cannot be underestimated as we have seen from the devastating impact of Ips typographus in central Europe. This pest has recently been found on Norway spruce in southern England and is the subject of action by Defra. Deer and Grey squirrel pressures pose significant challenges for achieving good ecological condition in woodlands and also substantively compromise the quality of timber which can be produced from broadleaved trees. A major change is required to reverse this and Natural England is working with Defra to improve the licensing tools available to land managers to address deer numbers.


Most current woodland creation projects are of too small scale to deliver major land use change or produce timber on the scale needed to start to address domestic needs.  This scale issue is an issue for both nature recovery and timber production. Management is never likely to be economic on very small scales and this presents a risk that, beyond any planting scheme obligation period, the woodlands established now may be unmanaged in future and suffer from deer browsing.  This is not something likely to be remedied through tweaks to scheme payments or process ‘efficiencies’ but instead demands a more strategic approach which addresses the underpinning issues of land values, profitability and flexibility of alternate land uses and uncertainty of future agricultural policy.  The planned Land Use Framework should allow these issues to be addressed in a joined up way.


We trust that these points prove useful and should the Committee have any queries please don’t hesitate to let us know.





Dr Mike Morecroft

Principal Adviser, Climate Change, Natural England, UK

Coordinating Lead Author IPCC Working Group II (Terrestrial and Freshwater Ecosystems Chapter)


January 2023


[1] Matthews, R.W., Morison, J.I.L., Henshall, P.A., Beauchamp, K., Hogan, G.P., Baden, R., Mackie, E.D. Vanguelova, E., Perks, M., Gruffudd, H. and Sayce, M. (2022) Quantifying the sustainable forestry carbon cycle: Assessment Report. Forest Research: Farnham,

[2] Gregg, R., Adams, J., Alonso, I., Crosher, I., Muto, P., & Morecroft, M. (2021). Carbon storage and sequestration by habitat: a review of the evidence. Natural England Research Report NERR094. York: Natural England.