The question really is what delivery should look like. In 2018, just 9,100ha of new woodland were created in the UK. To go from this to an annual rate of woodland expansion of 32,000ha represents an unprecedented change.
The increase in creation rates would be huge - for the past 25 years no more than 10,000 hectares of new woodland has been planted in any one year across the UK. It is, however, not an insurmountable challenge. Non-woodland trees play a vital role within agriculture, supporting farm productivity through provision of shade and shelter, pollinator and natural predator habitat, and protection of soils from erosion. The recommendation to increase on-farm tree planting and extend hedgerows by 40% (100,000 miles) will also help to deliver the increase and benefit wildlife simultaneously.
Additionally we must build on what we already have - better carbon storage is best achieved by protecting and retaining the substantial carbon store in mature trees and woodland and their soils. There is an urgent need to protect this existing store by addressing threats and providing support for the assessment, protection and maintenance of trees, especially mature trees. This should be wherever they occur - in urban areas, in hedgerows, alongside rivers and transport links and in the farmed countryside generally as well as in existing woodland.
Besides the benefits of carbon sequestration, existing and newly created trees and woodlands can also act as part of the solution to other climate change related challenges. For example, more trees in upland catchments can help reduce downstream flooding and reduce soil erosion and sediment getting into rivers and lakes. Trees on field edges can provide wind breaks for fragile soils, protecting them and minimising loss from wind and water erosion, better supporting crops in the fields as well as those fields which have been taken out of the agricultural system ahead of natural regeneration.
An emphasis on the expansion of UK native woods and trees over several decades and at a far greater scale than we currently see will make a substantial contribution to addressing the climate and natural environment crises together whilst also benefitting society by securing a wide range of other natural capital benefits. We stand ready to play our part - but policy enablement and incentivisation are key and are in the hands of Government.
Notes to editors:
For media queries only please contact Steve Marsh, Woodland Trust press office on 01476 581121, 07971 164 517 or email firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
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.