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Climate Change (Forestry)

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 10th December 2009.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South 10:30 am, 10th December 2009

When he expects to respond to the recent report of the Forestry Commission on forestry and climate change.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government welcome the Read report, which sets out clearly how forestry in the UK can contribute to tackling climate change. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Forestry Commission are considering the report in detail and we will use its findings to develop our policy. We will outline next steps in DEFRA's climate change plan in the spring.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham Labour, Coventry South

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important to increase tree planting in this country by 40 per cent., given the climatic change problems facing us? What consultations will he engage in with various organisations before reaching a decision on the matter?

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Read report has only just been published. I spoke at an event for its launch, where many of the people who would express a view on the subject were present. I agree that we should seek to achieve the objective that my hon. Friend mentions, not least because the Read report points out that if we managed to achieve it, that would contribute a significant proportion of the reduction in CO2 emissions that this nation needs to achieve by 2050.

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Photo of James Gray James Gray Conservative, North Wiltshire

North Wiltshire and Wiltshire more widely boast some of the most ancient and natural woodlands anywhere in England, in Bradon forest, Savernake and elsewhere. However, large parts of our oak population are threatened by oak decline syndrome, and a number of similar pathogens threaten our ancient woodlands. What does the Secretary of State intend to do about that?

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We have a research programme that is examining a number of the diseases that have emerged, including the one to which the hon. Gentleman refers. Their emergence may indeed be a consequence of climate change. We have a very big programme examining phytophthora and I was able to see some of that work in a visit to the south-west in August. I am happy to write to him to provide more information about the specific issue that he has raised.

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Photo of Jessica Morden Jessica Morden Labour, Newport East

The report is very welcome. What discussions is the Secretary of State having with the Welsh Assembly Government about what Wales could contribute to increasing woodland cover to 16 per cent.?

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I will certainly have discussions with all those who could contribute to ensuring that we achieve that objective. I should point out to the House that, in the 90 years since the establishment of the Forestry Commission, there has been a significant increase in forest and woodland cover in the country, after our having got to the point where we had chopped down almost all the trees that we had.

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Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Shadow Secretary of State (Environment)

The Forestry Commission report states that, in the next 10 years, the capacity of the UK's forests to absorb carbon could be reduced by up to 70 per cent. Will the Secretary of State therefore look to the capacity of Britain's uplands as a complementary source of carbon sequestration? Given that the average hill farm income last year was just £5,000, does he acknowledge that he must act quickly to restructure farm payments, to ensure that the upland stewards of our carbon sinks are fairly rewarded and are kept in business?

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we have changed the system. We will introduce the uplands entry level scheme, which we consulted on widely and which was welcomed at the time. The truth is that those who farm and those who manage the land have a real opportunity here not only to contribute to sustainability and to the management of the landscape, but to reduce carbon emissions both through peat bogs-the national parks want to play a role in that-and by planting trees where we can to soak up carbon.

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Photo of Gavin Strang Gavin Strang Labour, Edinburgh East

I accept that the report is just out, but does my right hon. Friend agree that forestry has the potential to make a highly significant contribution to our emissions reduction targets? Indeed, with an increase of 4 per cent. in woodland cover over the next 40 years, we could, by the 2050s, achieve a reduction equivalent to 10 per cent. of greenhouse gas emissions.

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Photo of Hilary Benn Hilary Benn The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I do indeed agree with my right hon. Friend. Trees are wonderful carbon-eating machines.

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