Changing your woodland business for climate change – Confor Woodland Show 2019

CONFOR Woodland Show 2019 – Blog

Changing your woodland business for climate change

By Tilhill Forestry’s Southern England New Business Manager Alex Mackinnon

This was my first visit to the Confor Woodland Show in a capacity other than purely a visitor. I actually had a job to do! As such, I thoroughly enjoyed helping to organise and run Tilhill Forestry’s stand at the show. . I was also able to sit in on some of the seminars hosted by Confor. These were particularly interesting as they focussed on the current challenges facing the forest industry and the world as a whole. Here are my thoughts on what I took away with me:

-Changing your woodland business for climate change

Susan Davis – Edinburgh university, Ex risk management

It was great to hear from someone in a different background to myself, one of risk management, speaking at this forestry seminar. Susan pointed out that the frequency of claims for windblow events in forestry are rising. Making a very clear connection, at least in my head, that climate change is going to have tangible effects on forest owners back pockets. How can we avoid this? Well, I think we all know by now it’s a bit late for that.

James Hepburn Scott – Forest Carbon

James hit the nail on the head with, in my opinion the biggest obstacle facing a woodland business, the lack of sustained political leadership. This got the cheers from the crowd it rightly deserved. He also suggested an interesting slant on the current planting system- a presumption in favour of planting. A take that will no doubt have many people up in arms, but I think could also be an incredibly useful tool in unlocking increased planting. The need for a MacKinnon Report in England was also met with a very positive affirmation from the crowd. I might know of a willing volunteer if they wanted to keep the title the same!

Alice Snowdon – Cheviot Trees

Alice gave some important messages about nursery stock and where we should be sourcing our new planting seedlings. She highlighted the importance of organisations like Future Trees Trust and their good work to further the genetics of the specimens we plant. Alice made the point that both provenance and origin should be considered when choosing trees for planting. As a simple but general rule, it makes sense to choose a provenance and thus genetics that are from slightly more southern latitudes to take account for the drier conditions we are expecting.


John Weir – Forestry Commission

John clearly has first-hand experience of large-scale planting and his presentation was a very honest reflection and critique of the methods of the past. In order for us to move forward, experience such as his is invaluable if we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the past. John is right to step out of this very traditional industry and consider the current rhetoric that the like of Greta Thunberg is shouting about – we mustn’t live in an echo chamber.

Bryan Elliot – Eucalyptus Renewables

Bryan made important points about ensuring very basic silviculture is used to maintain new planting. All efforts are pointless if newly planted trees weren’t grown through to maturity. His experience with Eucalypts raised a controversial but important question about the species we should be using. An argument focused entirely on carbon sequestration might well conclude fast growing Eucalypts are the right choice, while others placing biodiversity higher up the agenda could consider them a catastrophe. What’s more important?


The Q & A session raised an important point regarding Continuous Cover Forestry (CCF). If we are looking for environmental benefits, CCF can offer some great advantages over clear-felling but what are the implications on carbon flux and store?


The resounding message through all the speakers was the clear need for action, education, collaboration and streamlining of the system to speed up planting applications.

-Adapting Woodlands in the Face of Climate Change

Dominic Driver, Head of Land Stewardship, Natural Resources Wales. Mark Broadmeadow, Principal Advisor Climate Change, Forestry Commission England (FC).  James Morison, Science Group Leader, Forest Research. Richard Greenhous, Director of Forest Services at the Forestry Commission England. Simon Lloyd, Chief Executive, The Royal Forestry Society (RFS),  Adam Todd, Forest Manager, Pryor & Rickett Silviculture

The next seminar was presented by the forestry climate change working group that echoed many of the points made previously and presented a clear message of action and hope.

Mark Broadmeadow made the valid point that we should not be too comfortable in our current position. Yes, on one hand as managers of carbon we are doing a great service in helping to mitigate climate change and provide public benefits at the same time, but we also should face up to the desperate lack of progress towards our planting goals. Mark reiterated points from the previous seminar that the systems we are developing now must work both in the current and future climate scenarios, if not we risk designing ourselves right back into the situation we are in now.

Simon Lloyd gave an evocative talk on the difficulties of adapting current woodlands under the existing grant system, and indeed pointed out some obvious flaws. Again, the issue of sustained political leadership arose when discussing the need for policy change. On a positive note, Simon looked to the past times when incentives have lined up and the resultant planting has been momentous. If we have done it in the past, why not now?

Finally, Adam Todd represented younger members of the industry with the message that we are here with eagerness and enthusiasm to get involved. Adam also pointed to NGOs to speak the truth about the difficulties in the industry, perhaps Bambi isn’t so fluffy after all.


A rather demoralising point was raised in the questions: We are indeed starting from a position where, in a recent survey, 30% of people thought we should never cut a tree down. The scale of the task ahead is clear.

The call for action rather than words from many of the speakers was certainly well placed, but the irony of sitting there listening to it as words wasn’t lost on me. In all, I was inspired seeing so many passionate and knowledgeable people openly discussing the issues the forestry industry faces and how we can overcome them.