HC Deb 03 May 1990 vol 171 cc644-5W
Sir Patrick McNair-Wilson

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food whether owners of woodlands damaged in this year's storms will receive financial assistance towards their restoration.

Mr. Gummer

Immediately after the initial storm on 25 January 1990, the Forestry Commission set up a forest windblow action committee based on the model of the successful committee it established following the storm in October 1987. The action committee was given the task of assessing the full scale of the damage to woodlands in those areas badly affected by the 25 January storm and those which followed, in southern England, Wales and the midlands, and making recommendations to the commission. Although storms occurred at this time in other parts of Britain, the damage to woodlands in these areas was not of the same exceptional nature.

In its recently published report, copies of which have been placed in the Library of the House, the action committee has estimated that the volume of timber blown down in woodlands in the areas concerned was of the order of 1.3 million cubic metres. This compares with nearly 4 million cubic metres blown down in the October 1987 storm. Most of the damage (some 82 per cent. by volume) was sustained in conifer woodlands, 55 per cent. of which were in private ownership. The damage to broadleaved woodlands, over 90 per cent. of which were privately owned, mainly affected mature and over-mature trees, particularly beech. The action committee recommended that special assistance towards replanting should be made available to the owners of the storm-damaged woodlands in the form of supplements to the Forestry Commission's normal planting grants.

In considering the action committee's recommendations, I have had regard to the effect that the additional volumes of timber arising from the recent storms are likely to have on the market price of wood in the areas concerned. Following the storm in 1987, timber prices were severely depressed as a result of the glut of wood on the market. It is clear that the salvaging and sale of the broadleaved timber arising from this year's storms will, in the majority of cases, again fail to provide a sufficient return to cover the necessary replanting, bearing in mind the extraordinary expenses that owners will face both in the difficult task of preparing the sites for planting and in the planting itself. Against this background, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and I have decided to provide a special supplement of £400 per hectare for broadleaved replanting in those woodland areas damaged by the storms, to be paid on top of the Forestry Commission's normal planting grants, on the same basis as the effective arrangement we introduced after the 1987 storm. By contrast, the softwood market is not much affected on this occasion and the conifer woods can be expected to pay their own way with the help of the standard planting grants.

The supplement for broadleaved planting, which is at the same level as that paid after the 1987 storm, will be available over the next four years for all eligible replanting carried out by applicants under the woodland grant scheme and by those who still qualify under the Forestry Commission's dedication schemes. Applications will be considered for those woodlands in the commission's East England, West England and Wales conservancies which were damaged in the succession of severe storms which occurred over the period from 25 January 1990 to the end of February 1990. The European Commission is being informed under the provisions of article 93 of the treaty of Rome.

Full details of the administrative arrangements for the new supplement will be set out in a Forestry Commission leaflet to be published shortly, copies of which will be placed in the Library. Any owners who have already taken steps to secure the replanting of their storm-damaged woods with broadleaves under the commission's grant schemes will not be placed at a disadvantage as we have agreed that the supplement may be applied to them retrospectively.

It is estimated that the total cost of the supplement will be £320,000 spread over the four-year period. This will be in addition to the estimated cost of the normal grants for replanting the damaged woodlands (including the conifer woodlands) of £1.68 million, also spread over four years. There will be no addition to the overall provision for public expenditure programmes set out in Cm. 1003.

The storms have left a trail of devastation, and we hope that the supplement now on offer, taken with the Forestry Commission's normal planting grants, will serve to encourage the restoration of well-loved woodland landscapes.

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