Owen's Speech to the Forest Science Meeting

Rt Hon Owen Paterson to the Forest Science Meeting – 8 May 2013


I would like to thank His Royal Highness for organising this event. Deforestation is a complex issue. These kinds of events are vital in raising its profile and allowing informed discussion.

The loss and the degradation of forests has far reaching consequences. Habitats of endangered species are being destroyed. The homes and livelihoods of the communities who depend on forests are being put at risk.

Two of my key priorities for Defra are improving the environment and protecting plant health. Deforestation falls under both of these.


Agriculture is the main driver of deforestation. The world’s population is growing – by 2050 it is likely to hit 9 billion. Best estimates suggest that we will require a 70% increase in food. Clearly this will have a massive impact on land use.

We are, however, making progress. Indur Goklany has calculated that if we tried to support today’s population using the methods of the 1950s, instead of farming 38% of all land we would use 82%.

We need to focus on innovation to continue this trend. We need to become more efficient in our use of water, energy and nutrients. This will be key to stopping deforestation.


 David Willetts, the Science Minister, and I are working on an agri-tech strategy, to help translate research in agriculture into practical applications that will increase productivity and help to improve the environment.


We also need to tackle unlawful activity. We made a commitment to make it a criminal offence to trade in illegal timber. Illegal logging costs the world’s poorest countries an estimated $15billion a year as well as having a devastating impact on habitats. That’s why we introduced regulations to make it a criminal offence to trade illegal timber.

The Government is also setting high standards for itself through its sustainable procurement policies. We only use timber that comes from well managed sources. 


Timber is not the only illegal trade that’s impacting on rainforests and endangered species. We also need to act on the trade in wildlife and animal products.

Rhino horn is now fetching as much as £40,000 per kg. We are losing a rhino to poachers every 11 hours. We must take action now.

That’s why we’ve launched the ‘If they’re gone...’ campaign. Some of our most iconic species - rhinos, elephants, tigers and orang-utans - are under serious threat.

I launched the campaign back in March, focussing on rhinos. I am going to Knowlsey Park in June to launch the next part of the campaign on elephants.


The campaign is a partnership involving the Government, wildlife NGOs, zoos and safari parks aiming to inspire people to take action to help to reduce the threat to these species from habitat loss and trafficking of animals and animal products.

The global market in this illegal trade could be as much as £13 billion a year. That is only behind drugs, arms and human trafficking in monetary value. There is growing evidence of links to organised crime and the funding of terrorist groups due to the high value of products like rhino horn, elephant ivory and tiger claws.

That’s why only last week I met with William Hague and other Ministers to set an agenda for how we tackle this issue on a global scale and use our political leadership to make progress.

We are also delighted to be working with His Royal Highness and his team in Clarence House to host an international meeting to discuss global action on this issue later this month.


The Government is also supporting positive action to stop deforestation. Defra is helping local communities to share and develop expertise through the Darwin Initiative grant scheme. These projects leave a legacy in the host country long after the project has ended.

A project that we are currently funding is in the peat swamp forests of Berbak on Sumatra. Deforestation is directly threatening species, including the Sumatran Tiger, and impacting local communities.

We are helping to create a financial incentive for local communities to conserve these habitats. This will help to protect local biodiversity and offer benefits to local communities.


Defra is providing £100m over four years for forestry projects in developing countries through the International Climate Fund, working with DECC and other Government departments.


For example, in the Amazon and Atlantic rain forests in Brazil we are working to restore deforested land on small and medium-sized farms. We are also assisting farmers to introduce sustainable agricultural methods. This will avoid 16,500 hectares of deforestation, and restore 41,100 hectares of forests and pastures over four years.

All of the projects we are funding recognise the importance of working with local communities and farmers in developing countries. We need to help them gain the direct economic and environmental benefits from managing forests sustainably.


We must support measures that encourage investment flows, especially from domestic banks, that reinforce this message. We also need to encourage greater engagement of local communities in forest management.

I am committed to working with His Royal Highness and others to make progress in these vital areas.