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UK Government accused of "total failure" on tree planting

Author:  Confor
  16/06/2022
Last Updated:  16/06/2022

The UK Government has been accused of "a total economic and environmental policy failure" after new tree planting figures showed it is still not even halfway to hitting the target it set in December 2019.

Image: © Andrew O'Brien

Image: © Andrew O'Brien

Boris Johnson pledged to plant 30,000 hectares (75,000 acres) of new woodland every year by 2024 - but official statistics released today show less than 14,000 hectares were planted in the year to March 31st, 2022.

Industry leaders said there was "zero chance" of fulfilling the pledge to reach 30,000 hectares by the end of 2024 - and demanded that the Prime Minister take personal control of the issue and ensure his Environment team - Secretary of State George Eustice and the Minister responsible for forestry, Lord Goldsmith - limit the damage in the time remaining of this Parliament.

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of forestry and wood trade body Confor, which represents 1500 UK businesses, said:

"This is a total policy failure in both economic and environmental terms.

"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.

"This is especially true of productive forests, which produce wood alongside benefits for carbon, nature and the economy. The Government knows more wood is needed to build low-carbon homes and it knows the UK faces a shortfall in future domestic wood supply, yet it is seeking to keep a tight lid on the planting of productive forests.

“Environmental groups know we need to grow more wood in the UK rather than increasing the pressure on fragile global forests, but the Government - against all the evidence - is not taking decisive action.”

Mr Goodall said Scotland was planting almost 80% of all the new woodland in the UK, but that planting in England, Wales and Northern Ireland was "woeful".

"We need a joined-up policy and we simply don't have it.

"The UK Government wants to Level Up and tackle climate change, but it ignores taking the actions that would deliver on all these agendas. It commits to protecting fragile global forests at COP26 while also presiding over a decline in domestic wood supply which will simply put more pressure on those very fragile forests.

"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."

Mr Goodhall said.

Mr Goodall said Confor had arranged fact-finding visits for ministers and officials and was working hard to remove the barriers to planting productive forests. The industry would continue to make the case for greater home-grown planting as all the evidence supported the need to do it, he added - but at the end of the day, something has to change.

“If Defra aren’t able to deliver the Government’s own manifesto commitments then it’s time that the Prime Minister stepped in to ensure they do,”

Mr Goodall concluded.

In 2021-22, Scotland planted 10,480 hectares (ha) of new woodland. England planted 2260ha, Wales 580ha and Northern Ireland 540ha.

“Scotland is leading the way in planting more trees and using more wood - and is already reaping the economic and environmental benefits as a result.

“The rest of the UK must follow its lead.”

Mr Goodhall added.

Confor is the trade body representing 1500 sustainable forestry and wood-using businesses across the UK. It supports them through political engagement, market promotion and supporting members' competitiveness. www.confor.org.uk