Government pledge on environment falters as “stalled” planting statistics are confirmed

The Woodland Trust says Government needs to significantly up its game if it is to meet its own tree planting targets.

Speaking as the Forestry Commission confirmed just 7,000 hectares of woodland were created across the UK in 2016-17, Director of Conservation and External Affairs Austin Brady said:

“Government is systematically falling short of its targets – targets that were not particularly ambitious to start with. Recent levels of planting are stalled at an all-time low, this must improve rapidly if we are to have any hope of heading off the serious environmental degradation faced by our countryside. Otherwise the Government’s repeated pledge ‘to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it’ will soon take on a hollow ring.”

New planting figures in England barely broke the 1,000 hectare barrier last year, falling drastically below the 5,000 hectare annual target set by the Forestry Commission in 2013. Since then, despite the availability of grant funding, it has only managed a woeful 7,600 hectares in total – leaving a shortfall of some 12,000 hectares.

In Scotland, only 4,700 hectares were planted, 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. 

Brady added:

“The Government really must up its game and we are not the only ones to think so. Reports from the Committee on Climate Change confirm that anticipated rates of carbon lock up from new planting are failing to be delivered across the UK. We agree with their assertion that we need to see some real traction when it comes to addressing the barriers to increasing the number of trees in the ground.

“We need much more effective incentives for tree planting and a more streamlined approval process; a view also supported by a key report from the House of Commons Select Committee on Forestry. Leaving the EU means that we can dismantle the complex and conflicting systems of grants and rules that have become a barrier to the many farmers, landowners and organisations that would like to support more planting.

“New incentives and innovative programmes are needed that recognise the wider public benefits of trees and woods and effectively reward landowners for delivering them. We need to try some new approaches and the Trust is ready to play our part, working with Government to develop new mechanisms to secure more planting.”

Trees and woods, when carefully planned, can improve farm efficiency by offering shade and shelter to livestock, reducing soil erosion, intercepting runoff, supporting pollinators and providing woodfuel. In the right place, new woods can reduce downstream flood risk, improve networks of wildlife habitat and offer opportunities for access and recreation, as well as supporting rural economies.

In and around our towns and cities, new woods and trees can deliver a range of health benefits, creating spaces for exercise, relaxation and getting closer to nature, as well as helping to filter pollutants and improve air quality, slow the rates of runoff to help reduce flood risk and help to cool our overheating urban spaces.

Notes to editors

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.