UK still falling short of tree planting targets

Latest figures show a marginal increase in UK tree planting over the past year, but levels are still less than half of the government’s target of planting 30,000ha of new trees annually by 2024.

This is despite a massive push by the government to stimulate tree planting, including the rollout of the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) and Forestry England Woodland Partnership in 2021.

Forest Research has published the latest national statistics on woodland which show that in the year to 31 March 2022 the total area of new planting in the UK was 13,840ha, up on the 13,290ha planted in 2020-21.

See also: Woodland investment: Demand, barriers and what’s available

There were 2,260ha planted in England (16%), 10,480ha in Scotland (76%), 580ha in Wales (4%) and 540ha (4%) in Northern Ireland.

Conifers accounted for 50% of the total area of new planting.

Scotland leading way

Scottish Forestry said the figures showed that Scotland was “punching above its weight” on creating new woodlands, particularly given it was a year when the main planting season had been affected by winter storms.

Scotland’s overall woodland creation target for 2021-22 was 13,500ha and Scottish Forestry had approved enough new schemes to reach this level. But parts of the sector had to divert resources from planting to clean-up operations after Storm Arwen.

However, Scotland did meet its target of creating more than 4,000ha of native woodland, with 4,360ha being achieved.

It also said there was “very healthy demand” for woodland creation and it was already working on about 13,000ha worth of new projects.

But Confor, the trade body representing UK forestry and timber businesses, said overall the figures showed there was “zero chance” of fulfilling the UK pledge to reach 30,000ha of new planting by the end of 2024.

‘Woeful’

It described the planting levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as woeful.

“This is a total policy failure in both economic and environmental terms,” said Stuart Goodall, Confor chief executive.

“Report after report has shown that increased tree planting and wood use is vital to meeting the UK’s net-zero targets – yet this is not being translated into trees in the ground.

“There is currently zero chance of meeting planting targets unless we see decisive and immediate change.

“That means encouraging more productive forests to be planted, making the process to do so more straightforward, and ensuring that we grow more of the wood that our future low-carbon economy needs and avoid spiralling imports in a world where everyone wants more wood.”

Strong EWCO pipeline

The statistics show that in England just 81ha of new woodland has been planted as a direct result of the introduction of the EWCO, which was launched in June 2021.

But the Forestry Commission said while the EWCO looked to have funded a relatively small area during the 2021-22 year, the pipeline of applications was strong and there were also some current projects that have fallen outside of reporting deadlines.

“Interest in new planting remains strong, as evidenced by management information on the volume of applications to the England Woodland Creation grant and Woodland Creation Planning grant.”

Last year, England set its own target of planting 7,000ha of new woodland each year by the end of the current parliament.

Wales has a target of planting at least 5,000ha/year, while Northern Ireland is seeking to average 900ha/year between 2020 and 2030.

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