AFTER BREXIT, the UK must take a radical new approach to rural policy and funding which treats all land uses equally – including forestry.

In a newly-published report from forestry and timber trade body Confor, Europe's Common Agricultural Policy is described as "a straitjacket" on rural areas which should be replaced by a Common Countryside Policy that will not create artificial incentives to farm where trees might make more economic sense.

Confor, which represents 1600 forestry and wood-using businesses across the UK, launched the report at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, presented a copy to Defra minister Michael Gove.

The report reads: "After Brexit, forestry seeks fair, equal treatment. This should be a cornerstone of a new CCP – fair treatment for all land uses, and a recognition that the countryside is about more than farming."

Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall said: "The CAP doesn't fit when it comes to rural policy in 2017. It has been a straitjacket on our rural areas. In the report, we quote Michael Gove, who believes there is an 'unfrozen moment' after Brexit where we can imagine a better way of doing things.

"Our report does not call for special treatment for forestry – it calls for fair, equal treatment for forestry and all other land uses. Farmers and landowners should be given the opportunity to make decisions on what is best for their land based on long-term and wide-ranging benefit – not on the need to chase subsidy," said Mr Goodall.

"We want a Common Countryside Policy which delivers positive social, economic and environmental benefits for our rural areas – not a new version of CAP which simply rewards specific activity."

The Confor document proposes that a common countryside policy must be:

Fair – all land uses must be treated equally, judged on their contribution to sustainable rural development;

Sustainable – the new policy must deliver a combination of social, economic and environmental benefits to enrich and enhance the countryside;

Focused – future funding will be tight and must be directed towards profitable, productive land uses which also deliver social and environmental benefits;

Integrated – the new policy must allow integrated land use and remove the 'historic bias' to agriculture.

Mr Goodall concluded: "As the UK leaves the EU, we can map the future to a better countryside – one that is greener and more productive. As we leave CAP, we can create a new Common Countryside Policy which truly works in the best interest of all our rural areas. It is an opportunity we must not miss."