Documents to download

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.


Documents to download

Related posts

  • Queen’s Speech 2022: Agriculture, the natural environment and animal welfare

    The 2019 Conservative Party manifesto included commitments to protect the natural environment and improve animal welfare. However, the Government has yet to fulfil its manifesto commitment to introduce legislation banning imports of hunting trophies. The Government has proposed changes to the ways in which natural landscapes are managed following the 2019 landscapes review. It has also said it is considering measures to permit greater use of some gene-edited organisms in agriculture.

    Queen’s Speech 2022: Agriculture, the natural environment and animal welfare
  • Game Birds (Cage Breeding) Bill [HL]

    The Game Birds (Cage Breeding) Bill [HL] would make it an offence to keep pheasants or partridges in raised laying cages or battery cages for the purpose of producing eggs. Currently, the statutory Code of Practice for the Welfare of Gamebirds Reared for Sporting Purposes recommends that barren raised cages for breeding pheasants and small barren cages for breeding partridges should not be used, and any system should be appropriately enriched.

    Game Birds (Cage Breeding) Bill [HL]
  • Changing the regulation of certain genetically modified plants: motion not to approve new laws

    New regulations would ease the regulatory process for the environmental release of certain genetically modified plants, for the purposes of their research and development. The Government believes the changes would make it easier for scientists to research possible innovations to improve agricultural crops. However, the regulations have attracted a lot of criticism and concerns. This article sets out some of the issues that have been raised ahead of a Lords debate on 14 March 2022 about whether the regulations should become law.

    Changing the regulation of certain genetically modified plants: motion not to approve new laws