Millions of trees felled in UK forestry crisis

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The Independent Online

A crisis in the UK's forestry industry has forced the destruction of millions of sap-lings, according to one of the UK's largest tree growers.

A crisis in the UK's forestry industry has forced the destruction of millions of sap-lings, according to one of the UK's largest tree growers.

In the latest episode of an orgy of felling uneconomic trees that has bedevilled the industry in recent years, the privately-owned Maelor Nurseries is having to close a big nursery in Scotland. On the eve of its harvest, Maelor has also started destroying saplings planted just three years ago on its Welsh Borders' farm. Millions more will have to go, the company predicts.

Ironically, Britain is the world's second-biggest importer of timber, buying £6.5bn of wood from overseas every year, according to official statistics. Only 20 per cent of wood consumed in the UK is grown in this country.

At the same time, Britain has sunk near to the bottom of Europe's afforestation table. Only 10.5 per cent of British land is now wooded thanks to a steady decline in commercial planting. A damning report by the Horticultural Trade Association (HTA) highlighted a particularly worrying decline in the planting of conifers and broad-leaved varieties. The HTA is also critical of much of the planting which has gone on, condemning the use of cheap and unregulated foreign stock likely to have a negative environmental impact.

Britain's forestry problems have been aggravated by the actions of conservationists, industry figures say, even though groups like Greenpeace oppose the indiscriminate felling in the virgin forests of developing countries. The creation of commercially sustainable forestry in the UK has been frustrated by interest groups concerned about the impact on local wildlife. Michael Harvey, managing director of Maelor Nurseries, believes the opposition is misconceived.

"Modern forestry is no longer concerned with the monotonous conifer planting that was popular before the 1980s," he says. "We believe that such an important subject should be viewed in the global context and controlled through more public debate."

Mr Harvey also blames red tape for the destruction of 15 million new trees which was forced on Maelor last year. Not even the awarding of a series of lottery grants to fund millennium planting projects has been enough to stem the tide of felling.

The impact of the trend has been felt beyond the industry, especially in remote parts of the country where forestry has traditionally been one of the most important employers.

In the light of the crisis, Mr Harvey is calling for an urgent review of the Government's forestry policy. He believes that the UK should take a leaf out of the books of Holland and Ireland, where forestry's positive environmental effects - for example, its ability to reduce carbon in the atmosphere - are factored into the equation when planting policy is formulated.