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Frustratingly low tree planting rates continue in England

The Woodland Trust is disappointed by the continued low rate of new woodland planting confirmed in official figures today.

The figures show only 1500ha of woodland was planted in England last year, far below the Government and Forestry Commission aim of 5000ha. Since announcing the aspiration to increase England’s woodland cover to 12% by 2060, planting has fallen well short of the levels needed to achieve this goal.

John Tucker, director of woodland creation, Woodland Trust said: “These figures are all the more shocking considering the growing evidence of the importance of trees and woods in tackling air pollution, improving water quality and offering scope to deliver natural flood management, not to mention what they offer for wildlife and their productive potential for the rural economy. Something is drastically wrong with the way various government departments that share responsibility for trees and woods are failing to get enough new woodland created.”

Woodland cover in England stands at just 10%. England’s woodland cover is important because it is the stronghold of native broadleaf trees which offers the greatest range of biodiversity benefits. As home to 84% of the UK’s population, people’s access to woodland is vital. To achieve its aspiration of 12% woodland cover by 2060, the Government needs to sustain an average woodland creation rate of over 5000ha a year.

Photo: Michael Cooper
Photo: Michael Cooper

Tucker continued:Poor planting rates, woodland losses, and weak protection of ancient woods mean that in England, we are highly likely to be in a state of net deforestation, with some areas of woodland canopy felled or destroyed and not replanted. Despite repeated requests there is little sign of government effort to accurately quantify the cumulative losses of woodland resulting from planning, infrastructure, tree disease and intensive land use.”

Poor planting figures are partly due to significant delays in grant agreements, and low uptake due to changes in the system. The Trust says more flexible programmes are needed to grant aid to both smaller and larger areas of woodland creation and attract a wider range of landowners willing to plant.

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. 

“It’s time for a rethink for woodland creation,” Tucker says. “So much has changed since these aspirations were agreed and we need to find ways to overcome the existing barriers to creating the new woodland that will benefit everyone. This could include grant systems open all year round, increasing advice and encouragement for landowners and a quicker, more responsive system for smaller woodland creation projects. We need to change the culture around woodland creation and think more about why we should do it and spend less time looking for reasons why we can’t.”

In the UK as a whole there was 9100 ha of new planting in 2017-2018. Full figures can be found here.


Notes to editors

For more information contact Steve Marsh, Woodland Trust: 01476 581 121

UK woodland cover: The UK is one of the least wooded nations in Europe at 13%; woodland cover in England stands at just 10%. The UK ranks 25 out of 28 for the percentage of land area that is forest cover. Average woodland cover in the EU is 38%.

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters.

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.