Commercial forestry could help Wales meet its woodland goals.
The Welsh government should work with commercial logging interests to help it plant enough trees to meet its woodland strategy, according to a committee of the National Assembly for Wales.
It would help ameliorate the effects of climate change and makes Wales self sufficient in timber production.
The climate change, environment and rural affairs committee issued its report, 'Branching out: a new ambition for woodland policies', on 26 July. The report contains recommendations from the committee's inquiry, which ran from Febrary to July, into the how well the government was delivering on its Woodlands for Wales (2009) strategy.
Wales is one of the least-wooded countries in Europe, and in 2016 the government pledged to plant 20,000 hectares of new woodland by 2020. The strategy is aimed at responding to climate change, developing woodlands, fostering a competitive and integrated forestry sector and improving environmental quality.
The report calls on the Welsh government to increase the rate of new tree planting and develop long-term targets for woodland cover in cooperation with the commercial forestry sector.
This includes removing the barriers to planting by aligning processes around regulation and funding as well as adopting a presumption of approval for applications which have a high suitability for woodland as identified by the Woodland Opportunities Map. This map should also be more user friendly and linked to the land use planning system.
It calls on the Welsh government to ease constraints on the commercial forestry sector by encouraging the creation of coniferous woodland on public and private land, promoting tree planting on agricultural land with government grants and providing training in forestry and woodland management.
The government should detail how it will use woodlands to help control flooding and ensure a minimum of 20% urban tree canopy cover, as well as increase support for community woodland groups, create a national forest company for the south Wales valleys and ensure the curriculum includes woodlands conservation.
And the committee wants the government to encourage greater use of timber products by amending building regulations.
It also wants the government to reintroduce the Glastir woodland management scheme and ensure the tree health management scheme learns the lessons from ash dieback and larch diseases.
The Mike Hedges AM, chairman of the committee, said woodlands have an important role to play for the health and well-being of citizens and building resilience against climate change.
“However, annual woodland creation in Wales is far behind the targets set out in the Welsh Government’s Climate Change Strategy (2010), and this is seriously undermining the delivery of the Welsh government’s strategy, ‘Woodlands for Wales’,” he said. “We are calling on the Welsh government to address, as a matter of urgency, the regulatory, financial, bureaucratic and cultural barriers to woodland creation, with commercial forests and trees in urban areas being a particular priority.”