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On 19 August 2019, 100 years will have passed since the Forestry Act 1919 received royal assent. The Act established the Forestry Commission following concerns about the condition of woodland and forests in the UK. The Act gave the commission wide powers to: 

  • acquire and plant land;
  • promote timber supply and forest industries;
  • undertake education and research;
  • make grants; and
  • give advice to woodland owners.

Today, UK woodland coverage is estimated to be 3.17 million hectares. In 2017/18, 9,000 hectares of new woodland were created, with conifers accounting for over one half (56%) of this area. England’s forest cover is now double what it had been in 1919 and forestry is estimated to have contributed £339 million to the economy in 2018.

This House of Lords Library Briefing provides background information on the rationale for the Forestry Act 1919. It then considers more recent government policy relating to forestry, before providing a summary of current arrangements across the UK and events planned to mark the centenary.

Current Arrangements

Today, forestry is a fully devolved matter. In Northern Ireland, the Forest Service was established as an agency on 1 April 1998 and leads on forestry matters. In 2013, Natural Resources Wales took over most of the Forestry Commission’s functions in Wales. On 1 April 2019, formal responsibility for Scotland’s forests transferred from the Forestry Commission to the Scottish Government.

In England, the Forestry Commission (Forestry Commission England) is currently chaired by Sir Harry Studholme. It describes itself as the largest single provider of outdoor recreation in England. The Forestry Commission England is also the country’s largest landowner, managing 250,000 hectares and maintaining over 3,000 kilometres of waymarked walks and mountain-biking trails. In addition, the commission has noted that England’s forest cover is now double what it had been in 1919 and that forestry contributed an estimated £339 million to the economy in 2018.

Forest Research, which describes itself as Great Britain’s principal organisation for forestry and tree-related research, provides statistics on UK-wide forestry. Its most recent release, published in September 2018, noted that:

  • the area of woodland in the UK at 31 March 2018 was estimated to be 3.17 million hectares. This represented 13% of the total land area in the UK, 10% in England, 15% in Wales, 19% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland;
  • of the total UK woodland area, 0.86 million hectares (27%) was owned or managed by the Forestry Commission (in England and Scotland), Natural Resources Wales (in Wales) or the Forest Service (in Northern Ireland); and
  • 9,000 hectares of new woodland were created in the UK in 2017/18, with conifers accounting for over one half (56%) of this area. 

Centenary

As part of a Forestry England programme of events to mark the centenary of the Forestry Act 1919, Carol Ann Duffy authored a poem as poet laureate entitled ‘Forest’. In addition, Rachel Whiteread, a Turner Prize-winning artist, has created a sculpture entitled ‘Nissen Hut’ as a “permanent tribute to the lasting impact of the First World War on the British landscape”. Other events, including surveys of forest wildlife and running events, are scheduled to take place throughout the year. In Scotland, Scottish Forestry, established in April 2019, will shortly be launching a website to mark the centenary.


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