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The forestry industry is at a disadvantage though because of the public perception of 'blanket' planting of conifers. Sheep standing in fields bounded by pretty stone walls conjure an image of the peaceful English countryside and, to many, how it should remain.

The fact is, new planting of forestry has declined dramatically to a tenth of its peak in 1989. It doesn't take much to understand that this will have a significant effect on the future national timber output.

We know all about the undersupply of housing, particularly affordable housing. We are also bombarded with information telling us we should support sustainable industries.

Sustainability is the word of the moment yet we will not be able to sustain the supply of home-grown timber in the quantity required to feed the demand for materials needed if we don't increase the rate of new planting dramatically.

Confor, the leading forestry industry association, has commissioned a report to look at the profitability of forestry against traditional upland sheep farming. The findings are surprising.

Here are some of its claims:

Established, productive conifer forests deliver more than three times the economic output compared to upland sheep farming before subsidy: an average of just over £10 million per year when in sustained production, compared to just over £3 million for farming.

Annual output per hectare is £503.69 for forestry compared to £154.27 for upland sheep farming; annual output per employee is £122,047 for forestry compared to £37,110 for upland sheep farming.

Forestry trades at a significant surplus – an average of almost £3.1 million per year, while upland sheep farming trades at a loss of close to £440,000 each year.

Forestry spending in the local economy is twice that of upland sheep farming – £7 million compared to £3.5 million annually.

Upland sheep farming requires a public subsidy of £22,600 per full-time equivalent employee each year to survive. Forestry receives a subsidy of around one-sixth of that of upland sheep farming which goes towards the provision of public benefits, including access, recreational opportunities and environmental improvements.

Caroline Harrison, England national manager at Confor and who is based in the South West, said that the report is not "intended to denigrate upland farming". Confor simply wants to provide some evidence of the real social and economic justification behind the need to increase the rate of new planting to meet future demand.

Landowners should look seriously at the opportunities presented by forestry, not only in terms of sustainability but also in economic terms as highlighted by the Confor report.

There are many areas here in the South West topographically similar to the Scottish borders, where the Confor study was undertaken, however, we have the added advantage of better growing conditions.

One more frightening Confor statistic tells us that 45 per cent of all UK woodlands are 'unmanaged'. With demand for wood fuel and construction timber never higher, bringing these woodlands back into economic production is a real opportunity.

If you are a woodland landowner, there has never been a better time to look at your resource, be it a couple of acres or ten thousand.

Please call Conolly McCausland at the Bruton Knowles Taunton office on 01823 924351 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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