Why Grow Trees?

Forest and woodlands are much loved features in the landscape and can generate a wide range of economic, environmental and social benefits including timber, wildlife habitats, clothing "development sites" and leisure and pleasure. These can be a source of employment and income. In some areas, forestry underpins the rural economy through the production of timber and through tourism-related usage.

Compared with EU countries, woodland cover in England and Wales is low. Successive Governments have exalted landowners to boost tree planting. However, there needs to be some direct or indirect economic motive to do this. Even though owners may love their woods, they are treasured even more if they at least break even and the landowner is not out of pocket for providing benefits for other people such as access, landscaping and other environmental benefits.

Autumn Beeches © Forestry Commission

Reasons for growing trees include:

  • Trees provide us with a wide range of biodegradeable products and developed countries are heavily dependent on wood, or wood-based products; homes are full of them, whilst most building boards, cardboard and paper are based on wood which has been chipped, ground or chemically dissolved before processing.
  • In Britain as a whole, we produce over half our food but only one tenth of our wood needs; when all the forests now planted here come into production, the proportion will still only rise to a fifth.
  • To satisfy our current wood demands, our population uses roughly 100 million trees every year - and per capita consumption of forest products in Great Britain continues to rise.
  • Using up timber and not replacing it contributes to the "greenhouse effect". In Britain, it is forestry policy to replant after felling. Growing as much of our own timber as possible is a sensible, responsible thing to do.
  • Britain has one of the lowest forest covers in the whole of Europe - about 10% as opposed to the European of 25%. Yet we have excellent conditions for growing trees practically anywhere in the country.
  • Against this, we grow only just over 10% of our own needs for timber and timber products - resulting in Britain's fourth highest import bill. Only food, fuel and motor vehicles cost us more in imports.
  • Forests bring jobs to remote rural communities, not just in the forest itself but in transporting and processing the timber and in the services supporting these industries. Over 35,000 people in Britain owe their jobs to forestry. A wooded environment helps attract new industries by providing pleasant surroundings in which to work.
  • Forests and woodlands do not simply offer us timber. There are many tangible and intangible benefits from them and most wooded areas serve a multi-purpose use.
  • Woods provide beauty, characterise the local landscape, provide recreational possibilities, are important conservation areas and through their management, provide employment.
  • Dutch elm disease and hedgerow grubbing have killed millions of trees and the October '87 and January '90 hurricanes toppled an additional 7 million specimens.
  • The vital environmental benefits that woodlands and forests confer on the community are increasingly recognised by decision-makers.
  • Monetary values are now starting to be placed on aspects of woodlands which were previously taken for granted - on landscape values, on the role trees play as natural air cleaners and on their role as "carbon sinks".

So forests provide people everywhere with havens of peace and quiet to relax in and enjoy. They enhance the landscape and provide valuable and sometimes unique habitats for forest flora and fauna. Above all, they provide us with a vital renewable material - timber.

Nowadays it is a mistake to think of timber-producing forests and forests for wildlife and people as separate things.

Modern forest policy demands that woodlands should be truly multi-purpose assets for all the community - both wildlife and human. Careful landscaping and planning would ensure that they meet a whole range of needs by putting the right type of woodland in the right place and for the right reason, making up a multi-purpose forest that not only brings beauty but jobs, prosperity and leisure to the community.