Action needed on consistently poor planting rates

The Woodland Trust says official planting figures released today remain extremely disappointing and signal the urgent need for fresh thinking when it comes to getting more trees in the ground.

The Forestry Commission statistics for 2016-17 show just 7,000 hectares of woodland were created in the UK and figures in England have barely broken the 1,000 hectare barrier.

While that’s a small increase on last year's figures, the Trust says it still leaves a lot to be desired, especially as the Forestry Commission has a target to see 5,000 hectares planted a year in England alone.

Director of Conservation and External Affairs, Austin Brady said:

“This is a small increase compared to the all-time low point of 2015-2016, but is still nowhere near good enough. Fresh thinking is desperately needed to deliver on the Government’s renewed commitment to see 11 million trees planted over the next five years, plus a further one million in towns and cities.

“We really need an increase in the number and variety of native trees being planted if we are to have any hope of heading off the serious environmental degradation faced by the countryside. We need to act now to secure the proven benefits to society of more planting, whether in terms of better public health, reducing soil erosion, tackling flooding and boosting air and water quality.

“As a country, we need to act on these consistently poor planting rates if we are ever to reverse the continuing decline of our cherished landscapes and their wildlife. We need much more effective incentives for tree planting. The reform of grants as we leave the EU offers a significant opportunity to remove barriers, make planting more attractive and integrate the benefits of trees into wider land use, for which land owners should be supported.”

In Scotland, 4,800 hectares were planted last year, just 200 hectares more than the previous year. In Wales, 400 hectares were created, up from a shocking 100 and in Northern Ireland the figure was 200 hectares, compared to 100 in the previous 12 months.

In 2013 the Forestry Commission announced its target of planting 5,000 hectares per year in England. Since then, it has managed 7,600. Last year 1,100 hectares were planted compared to 700 in 2015-16.

Brady added:

“By their reckoning we should be looking at 20,000 hectares of newly-created woodland across England by now. The current shortfall of more than 12,000 hectares is just not acceptable.

“The scale of the challenge from woodland loss and tree disease is in sharp contrast to the public’s love of trees and their desire to protect and plant. It is high time we acted upon this.

“The Woodland Trust will continue to work with government, landowners and other partners to explore innovative ways of reversing this trend. We have a number of existing schemes that can help with this.”

Last year the Woodland Trust, through its various woodland creation schemes aimed at landowners, farmers, schools, community groups, local authorities and businesses, planted approximately 2.2 million trees– the equivalent of 850 hectares.

The trust hopes the Government’s forthcoming framework for its 25 year plan for nature will herald a fresh approach, and genuinely new and practical solutions to address these issues.

Ends

For more information, please contact Dee Smith or Steve Marsh in the Woodland Trust press office on 01476 581121 or email deesmith@woodlandtrust.org.uk

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.

The Trust has three key aims: i) protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable, ii) restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life, iii) plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife.

Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering over 22,500 hectares. Access to its woods is free.