A new paper by the Countryside Commission and the Forestry Commission seeks to stimulate discussion on how the government target of doubling woodland cover by the year 2050 can be met. This will involve the planting of billions of new trees.
At present England has less woodland than most other countries in Europe. Doubling woodland cover, from seven and a half per cent to 15 per cent of England's land area, as suggested in the government's Rural White Paper would transform the appearance of the countryside, says the discussion paper, Woodland Creation: Needs and Opportunities in the English Countryside.
'To put it in perspective, England last had 15% woodland cover during the time the Domesday Book was being compiled.'
'Expansion on this scale could not happen over night,' says the discussion paper. 'Change will be gradual, and will require determined action over many years'.
New woodland would bring many benefits. It would create new habitat for wildlife; new opportunities for recreation, boost timber production, and provide an opportunity to revitalise derelict or degraded landscapes, enhancing the beauty of the countryside.
The discussion paper acknowledges that a mix of measures, including financial incentives, specific woodland creation projects, measures to develop markets for woodland products and public, private and voluntary sector initiatives, will need to be in place. It adds, too, that it will be vital to involve local people in discussions about any proposals.
Uncertainties as to what might happen to timber markets; the effects of the Common Agricultural Policy and other unknown factors require a flexible approach - one which could respond to new ideas and possibilities.
The discussion paper is available free from Countryside Commission Postal Sales, PO BOx 124 Walgrave, Northampton NN6 9TL. Tel. 01604 781848.
Comments should be sent before 31 December to Mark Pritchard of the Forestry Authority, Great Eastern House, Tenison Road, Cambridge CB1 2DU.
The two commissions hope that the responses to the paper will help formulate forestry policy; to focus future research; to target existing resources, together with potential new resources, and to identify the scope for new initiatives.