Written evidence submitted by Dr Stephen Lee OBE, National Tree Improvement Strategy (NTIS) (TPW0017)


NTIS aims to promote UK trees through selection and breeding of a wide range of species capable of thriving in UK conditions. This includes broadleaves and conifers; native and exotic. We aim to promote economic value, genetic diversity and species resilience. This will produce trees with good vigour and timber quality, showing resistance to known pests and diseases and able to withstand both seasonal and longer-term climatic variations. NTIS aims to ensure that selected plant stock is made available to all interested parties.


The members of NTIS are from right across the sector and includes tree breeders, commercial foresters, nursery owners, saw millers, academics and genetic conservationists.


NTIS would very much like to see an increase in the number of trees planted in England. Well managed, sustainable forest management carried out in accordance with Forestry Commission guidelines and approved by the UK Woodland Assurance Standard is essential and will meet all the objectives the Government wishes to achieve and listed in Question 5 (below).


NTIS would argue that it is very important the correct planting stock is planted in the most appropriate place. The planting stock should be well adapted to the site and if there is a choice, the most productive material should be planted. Planting stock available from NTIS member the ‘Conifer Breeding Co-operative’ (CBC) grows on average 25% faster than unimproved material.


That’s 25% more carbon being absorbed as the trees grow compared to unimproved stock. In Scotland there are already planting premiums (extra grants) awarded to those managers that plant the top selected planting stock. This is something FC England should consider as well. A tree takes up the same space on the site – why not make sure it’s going to grow faster and absorbs more carbon, but still gives the same quality wood for construction? You objectives could be reached by planting 25% fewer trees. This is a major contribution to mitigating climate change.


Similarly, NTIS member ‘Future Trees Trust’ (FTT) is trying to breed broadleaved trees for commercial use. 


It is confident that the work it has carried out over the last 30-years will result in 20% extra carbon absorbed. This means for a given area of land, trees planted as a result of the FTT breeding programme will retain 20% extra carbon partially as a result of modest increases in growth rate but mainly through increases in stem straightness shifting end use from waste or firewood into products with a longer carbon shelf-life such as construction timber or furniture.


NTIS members are therefore producing planting stock which will absorb between 20 to 25% more carbon. It’s important that any new planting scheme designed to absorb greenhouse gases, takes full advantage of their respective planting stock and plants only the best available. Planting ill-adapted stock or stock that is not the best performing will be a sub-utilization of the site when more carbon could be absorbed.


Commercial forestry and timber production which keeps the carbon tied up as long as possible is clearly important for combating climate change. But it is also important that there is little or no loss of genetic variation which may be of value to combat future pests and disease or shifts in economic characteristics (e.g. breeding for cellulose as oppose to construction timber).  NTIS members representing ‘UK Forest Genetic Resources’ are responsible for promoting appropriate native woodlands (in-situ) and laboratory storage (ex-situ) to meet conservation objectives.


We need to see more areas promoted as in-situ conservation. And where-as commercial woodlands and forests planted with the top-selected stock will still have healthy ecosystems, the native woodland conservation areas may be richer still, and perhaps more resilient.


To answer you specific questions:


1)      Are the UK Government’s targets for increasing forestry coverage and tree planting, for England and the UK sufficiently ambitious and realistic?


Yes they are.

It will not be easy attaining an addition 30,000 hectares of woodland over and above replanting rates in existing woodlands but it will be necessary to make an impact into mitigating climate change. UK nurseries will need to be on-board producing home-produced trees from the best available planting stock which will absorb greater amounts of carbon (see above). Also existing landowners will need to be convinced of the need to switch land use. They usually follow where the grants lead them.


2)      Are the right structures in place to ensure that the UK wide target for increasing forestry coverage is delivered?


NTIS are not qualified to comment on this question and would refer you to CONFOR (www.confor.org.uk) who are also members of NTIS (and visa-versa).


3)      How effective is the co-ordination between the four nations on forestry issues, including biosecurity, plant health and other cross-border issues?


NTIS are not qualified to comment on this question and would refer you to CONFOR (www.confor.org.uk) who are also members of NTIS (and visa-versa).



4)      Why were previous ambitions for increasing tree planting in England not met and what lessons should be learned?


NTIS would argue the grant incentives were not ambitious enough. Again, premiums should be offered for the top-bred planting stock from CBC and FTT. Also conifer planting should be tolerated more in appropriate areas. In all cases the most improved stock available should be planted to maximise carbon absorption.


5) In relation to increasing forestry coverage in England, what should the Government be trying to achieve? For example, how should the following policy objectives be prioritised?


NTIS suggests the priority should be as shown below. However most of these objectives should automatically follow from a well managed woodland according to the UKWAS standards.


1. Mitigating or adapting to climate change;

2. Creating commercial opportunities from forestry, tourism and recreation;

3. Improving human well-being and health

4. Increasing bio-security and plant health;

5. Promoting biodiversity and nature recovery;

6. Protecting natural and cultural heritage;

7. Food security;


6) Are the right policies and funding in place to appropriately protect and manage existing woodlands in England? How will prospective changes to policy and legislation effect this?


Many of these under-managed woodlands are important wildlife reserves which would become richer still in wildlife under gentle-handed woodland management. They may also act as future reserves for genetic variation. So appropriate incentives should be given to owners of such sites perhaps via education  (new out-reach programmes) and realization on the value of such woodlands to the owner.


November 2020