Note concerns of coming biomass demands of 40m tonnes wood per year. Current UK wood supply 11m tonnes. (Towards end of Paddy Tipping's speech)
Jim Fitzpatrick (Minister of State (Minister for Food, Farming and Environment), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Poplar & Canning Town, Labour)
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair today, Mr. Amess. I congratulate my hon. Friend Paddy Tipping on securing this important debate and on drawing further attention to the need for increasing native woodland cover. I would like to express regret on behalf of my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies, who would be here in normal circumstances to participate in this debate as the Minister responsible for the environment, food and rural affairs. Sadly, he had already committed himself to other duties.
Before I respond to the various points raised, I would like to note the contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood, both in his role as chair of the all-party group on forestry and given his personal and continuing interest in environmental matters and his strong support for groups and trusts that campaign on forestry issues in his constituency and elsewhere. All that is well known here at Westminster.
Let us turn to the issue at hand, which is that of creating native woodland cover. As my hon. Friend mentioned, the Read report, published last November, gave us a better understanding of UK forestry's potential to help tackle climate change. The report is an independent, expert assessment of current scientific knowledge about UK forests and how they can help us to mitigate the effects of climate change.
When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs launched the report, he was clear that we need to plant a large number of trees over the next 40 years to tackle climate change and help bring down our carbon emissions, as well as addressing the biodiversity issues mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood.
To achieve those positive aims, we will need to work with communities and businesses. Since the Read report was published, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Forestry Commission have been developing policies on how we can increase the number of trees that we plant. However, there is more work to do to ensure that we have a clear mechanism to pay for the step change in woodland planting that is needed.
My hon. Friend suggested that we should unlock potential funds by resolving the problems of double counting. Early tree planting schemes suffered from a lack of quality assurance that undermined consumer confidence. In recent years, developments in both the regulated and unregulated carbon offset market have attempted to improve confidence in offsetting mechanisms.
The Government are determined to create a step change in domestic woodland creation, and we are currently working with the Forestry Commission, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and other bodies to find out how else we can stimulate more private sector investment in woodlands. DEFRA and the Forestry Commission are clear about the range of policies that woodland delivers. Trees are not only part of our green infrastructure, but they also play an increasingly important role in our towns and cities. Work by Manchester university suggests that increasing green coverage, particularly the tree canopy, in high density urban areas by only 10 per cent. could mitigate temperature increases from global warming, possibly keeping temperatures at today's levels or below.
I would like to highlight an example of where the right tree has been planted in right place. The national forest, which stretches across three of England's central counties and with which my hon. Friend will be very familiar, has demonstrated that it is possible to make landscape scale improvements by creating increased woodland and other habitats. That increased woodland cover has provided leisure opportunities for local people, supported local economies and driven the economic regeneration of former mining landscapes.
I understand that in my hon. Friend's constituency, as he mentioned, the Sherwood Forest Trust has been set up to secure the long-term future of the forest by restoring its ancient landscape for the benefit of people and wildlife. That is another example of ensuring that woodlands are places that local people can use and enjoy.
Forests and woodlands provide crucial and resilient habitats for wildlife and are a key part of our biodiversity. They will become increasingly important to enhance the English landscape's resilience to climate change and to allow mobile species to migrate to new habitats. For all the reasons that I and my hon. Friend have mentioned, native trees are exceptionally important to us. The Government are determined to ensure that we put plans in place to increase native woodland cover and to ensure that those woodlands are well managed for future generations.
In conclusion, I again congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate, and I assure him that DEFRA agrees about the importance of native woodland cover. I am sure that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will have heard his strong appeal to Ridley Scott and Russell Crowe to get over to Nottingham and Sherwood and to take their money with them as soon as possible.