Forestry and woodland in Wales - a view from Confor

Anthony Geddes, National Manager for Wales at Confor, explains more about tree planting in Wales to CLA Climate Change Lead Alice Ritchie.

Tree planting has become a central part of the UK government’s climate change policies, with big ambitions to plant ‘a forest the size of Birmingham’ in England, while scaling up planting in England and Wales. Anthony Geddes, National Manager for Wales at Confor, explains more about tree planting in Wales to CLA Climate Change Lead Alice Ritchie.

Q: Could you tell me a bit about your role and your background?

A: I am not a true forester, but originally trained as an engineer and then completed a master's in asset management and investment. The subsequent 15 years in forestry investment, timber recycling and renewable energy have proved a roundabout way of getting into forestry. It has all been highly useful.

My role at Confor is three-fold – firstly, I support our members through changes in the industry. Secondly, I lobby the government to ensure there’s recognition and support for forestry and its outputs. Thirdly, I share the good news that is forestry: new planting, managing woods and engaging with communities.  

Q: The Climate Change Committee and UK government have big tree planting targets – 30,000ha/year – how is the UK going to meet these?

A: That is a significant land-use change. Whilst there may be questions about tree supply and skills availability, the first question is where and what are those trees going to be? We can only meet those targets through understanding and sharing what afforestation will deliver for the landowner as well as the country.

I’m confident that there’s a possibility of hitting that target, but it’s going to be heavily reliant on the co-operation of farmers and land managers. It can’t be a government diktat; it must be a genuine conversation.

Q: How much of that 30,000ha/year will be in Wales? Does the Welsh government have a tree-planting target?

A: Yes, the Welsh Government target is 2,000 hectares per annum, rising to 4,000 as swiftly as possible. But to put that in context, just 80 ha of new planting was achieved last year so we have got a lot of work to do. The latest woodland creation schemes do have a record £17million in them though.

In terms of how much of the 30,000ha/year will be in Wales? Well the political answer is, as much as possible with respect for the environment, landscape and communities that will live around the planting. The non-political answer is that it could be as high as 6,000-9,000 hectares per annum. However, putting that in focus, the most Wales has ever planted was about 3,800 hectares per annum in the late 1970s.

Q: What is needed from the government to get more trees in the ground?

A: There’s a difficult balance between the complexity needed to make sure the right tree gets put in the right place, and to protect our environment, ecology, and habitats. Fundamentally, there needs to be a presumption in favour of planting within government policies.

Q: What about landowners? How can they get started?

A: There are some practical steps like thinking about their holding and potential areas for afforestation. There’s also a huge opportunity to learn and develop an understanding of afforestation benefits and how it could fit into their land and business portfolio. Chiefly we need to hear land-owners voices, individually, but also through organisations like the CLA and Confor. What they need from these new forests to remain on the land is critical.