Suspension of thinning scheme is a terrible call
The recently announced suspension of the forest roads and woodland improvement schemes has shocked everyone in the industry.
Following the Budget, forestry appeared to have emerged relatively intact, but this recent decision could have huge implications, not just for the future of farm forestry but for all the rural businesses that depend on a steady supply of broadleaf and conifer thinnings from the private sector.
Since the tending/thinning grant was introduced, thousands of farmers began the task of managing and thinning their broadleaf woods. This essential activity provided the raw material for the emerging wood fuel industry, which has almost doubled in size since 2006.
It also ensured that our national stock of ash woodland was properly managed to produce a high quality final crop and, of equal importance, a steady supply of hurley butts, most of which are currently imported.
The tending/thinning grant was one of the most important support schemes ever introduced in that it kick-started hundreds of small rural businesses and provided jobs in areas where previously there were none. If it is not re-introduced to at least its former level then we will revert to importing logs from Latvia and Estonia and hurley butts from Holland, Wales and elsewhere. Our broadleaf woods will lie untended and a valuable national asset will be lost forever, for once ash passes around 8m in height it must be thinned, otherwise it will never achieve its potential.
It must be remembered that tending and thinning of broadleaves is an uneconomic activity without grant support. All farm foresters and other woodland owners planted them in line with Government policy on the clear understanding that the vital support schemes would be in place to facilitate the ongoing management of their crops.
In a circular sent on December 16 to all foresters and forestry companies, the Forest Service announced the closure of the scheme.