A THRIVING and sustainable future for the UK countryside after Brexit demands a fresh approach to land use policy and funding that recognises much more than just farming – and in particular, forestry.

That was the central message from forestry trade body Confor, in its response to the UK Government’s consultation 'Health and Harmony: the future for food, farming and the environment'.

The detailed response was actually Confor’s fifth policy document on how Brexit might affect the UK’s £2 billion forestry and wood-using sector, and followed consultation with its members about what they wanted the future rural landscape to look like.

It stressed that significant public goods – including climate change mitigation – are delivered alongside timber production, a key point that is currently the subject of an ongoing social media campaign using the hashtag #wood4publicgood

Confor suggested five main steps that the government needs to take in its preparation for rural Brexit:

• An appropriately named Bill – the ‘Land Use Bill’ or ‘Countryside Bill’;

• Consider forestry and timber evidence – for example, in any detailed comparisons of productivity, profitability, employment, trade and professionalism, forestry must be included alongside the other crops and livestock data when future policy decisions are made;

• Embrace public goods and widen eligibility – future policy must be based on an integrated analysis of current and potential delivery of public goods and look beyond farming to include forestry and other rural enterprises excluded from the current analysis;

• Links to wider public policy – land use policy is linked closely to delivery of climate change mitigation targets as well as the UK Government’s Clean Growth Strategy, and this must be factored in to the bill. This was where forestry came to the fore, said Confor, with growing trees sequestering carbon and wood products locking that carbon up and replacing more carbon-intensive materials. If forestry and timber is included fairly in any future policy and support structure for land use, farmers and landowners can integrate timber production into their business model as part of a clear strategy to improve profitability and environmental performance;

• Devolution – as many of the questions in the consultation will impact on the whole UK and not just England, the consultation must be open to responses from all parts of the UK.

Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall said: “This is the most important countryside consultation for many years and it must focus on land use in its widest sense and not just farming.

“We must design a new policy and funding system which reflects what is best for our countryside and not just try to re-shape a flawed Common Agricultural Policy.”

Confor’s consultation response was summed up: “Confor strives to promote integrated land use and thriving rural communities and seeks to remove barriers between different land uses, in particular those which restrict tree planting and woodland management.

“It favours a post-Brexit system for the countryside which recognises that the types of rural activity supported by CAP are not the only form of productive land use. Confor wants a new policy framework for the countryside that allows farmers to integrate forestry or other activities into their businesses seamlessly. The public goods intrinsic to timber production should be recognised in any system of public reward.”

Mr Goodall, who met Defra’s head of Forestry and Climate Fiona Harrison last week as part of regular engagement with Defra ministers and officials, added: “Our consultation response is in, but the work goes on. Confor will continue to push hard for forestry to be at the heart of discussions about future rural policy and funding – because only by taking a broader view can we deliver a truly sustainable and thriving future for our rural economy.”