Britain’s forestry industry is split down the middle on how to vote in the European referendum in June.
A poll by Confor, the forestry and timber trade body which represents around 2,000 businesses across the UK, showed 52% in favour of remaining a member of the European Union and 48% saying they would prefer to leave. Almost a third of those who cast a vote said they felt they did not have enough information.
Confor has published an industry discussion paper, “Seeing the EU through the trees” which will form the basis of a discussion by Westminster’s all-party parliamentary group on forestry today. The paper identifies the six key issues the sector needs to consider ahead of the vote.
The issues identified by industry consultant, Guy Watt, include financial support from the EU; regulations, red tape and bureaucracy; trade; plant health; labour and controlling UK borders; and the economy.
Mr Watt cautioned against a simplistic approach on regulation and red tape.
“For those who owned woods or practised forestry 30 or more years ago, the challenge now of trying to get things done, or claiming grants, can seem a nightmare. The prospect of leaving the EU and getting rid of it all sounds something like paradise,” he said.
“Something that seems so good should perhaps be looked at a little more closely.”
Mr Watt also questions whether the UK “gold plates” EU directives and wonders if that practice would be given up easily if the UK voted to leave.
The paper includes details of the amount of grant support from Europe for woodland owners in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern between 2014 and 2020, as well as income from the EU for forest esearch and other grant support. It shows that woodland owners in Scotland will receive a total of £36million between 2014-2020 and the forestry industry received research funding in 2014-2015 of £783,000.
Confor’s chief executive, Stuart Goodall, said: “This short paper sets down the issues in a dispassionate and straightforward way. We know that our members have a range of views on whether the UK should remain part of, or leave, the European Union – and we also know that some of them think there is not enough information available to make a clear decision. That’s why we commissioned this discussion paper, which will hopefully provide some helpful background and assist them in making an informed decision.”