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Church of England boosts forestry stake

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The Church Commissioners have acquired a forestry portfolio for £49m (€61m) for their £6.1bn endowment fund, used to finance the Church of England’s activities, as well as some of its pension obligations.

The estates were purchased from UPM Tilhill, a forestry and timber harvesting company, and are made up of 13 forests in Scotland and two in Wales, including two operating wind farms and a mountain biking visitor centre.

They take the Commissioners’ total UK forestry holdings to £100m, all of which are certified to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards. The Commissioners are now the largest private commercial forestry investor in the UK.

The Commissioners have targeted forestry investments since 2010, and since inception these have delivered an annualised double digit return.

Chris West, head of indirect property, timberland and infrastructure for the Church Commissioners said: “We are delighted to complete this acquisition which brings our total forestry portfolio to 4% of the Commissioners’ total assets. Over the past five years, the Commissioners have built a high quality diverse portfolio of forestry assets in the UK, US and Australia, which will be managed for the long term.”

He added: “We believe that the acquisition should deliver attractive risk-adjusted returns in our home market and further diversify the Commissioners’ assets.

“This is a low carbon investment that first and foremost stacks up on investment grounds, but additionally provides future upside from renewable energy projects.

However, the purchase is not connected to the recent decision by the Diocese of Oxford to divest from fossil fuel companies and its call for the Church as a whole to do the same.

There is no divestment element to the Commissioners’ climate change policy and the Commissioners are awaiting advice from the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group on the next iteration of this policy.

They expect to adopt an updated policy before the Church’s General Synod in July 2015.

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