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More trees please: Government urged to show greater planting ambition

Last Updated:  14/12/2015

The new joint approach was announced on Wednesday 4 November to members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry at Westminster.

Confor and The Woodland Trust are calling on the UK Government to commit to planting 7,000 hectares (ha) of woodland every year until 2020 (around 15 million trees per year) and then to increase that to 10,000 ha per year when the next Government is elected in 2020.

The two organisations argue that greatly enhanced planting can deliver on a wide range of important environmental and economic ambitions. Forestry is a low-carbon industry that can support increasing jobs and growth in the rural economy, while the new targets will also create native woods that protect and buffer England’s ancient woodlands and create new habitat networks, enhancing the countryside and the wildlife that relies on it. Planting more trees will also help reduce the UK’s carbon emissions as trees soak up carbon and wood products store it. Carefully located tree planting can reduce flood risks and improve water quality, while accessible woodland within reach of all communities opens up a range of leisure opportunities.

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, promoting forestry and wood, said:

"Forest cover in England is only around 10 per cent - lower than the UK average of 13 per cent and way below the EU average of 38 per cent.

“We welcome the Government’s commitment to plant 11 million trees in the lifetime of the parliament, but this barely maintains the current low levels of planting at 2,500 ha per year. The government’s aspiration in 2013 was an annual planting target in England of 5,000 ha per annum so it’s clear much more needs to be done.”

He added: “If we can deliver a step change in planting, England’s environment, economy and society will benefit. We still import 80 per cent of our timber and building a stronger domestic forest and timber sector can cut these imports and reduce the balance of payments. A stronger domestic sector would also help to reduce pressure on forests in the developing world, where illegal logging is still a real problem.

"We need to act now as productive trees take 30-40 years to mature to a point where they are ready to be harvested to provide a range of products we use in our everyday lives - from fencing and decking to pallets and furniture right through to sandwich wrappers."

Austin Brady, Director of Conservation and External Affairs at The Woodland Trust, said:

"Ancient woodland and ancient trees in particular support a wide range of wildlife from soil organisms to fungi, a spectacular array of plants, invertebrates, small mammals and birds. They are an irreplaceable part of our cultural heritage and part of our national identity. New native woodland creation can contribute to buffering these existing areas of habitat, and help create bigger, better and more resilient habitat networks.

"Making use of high quality green space has been shown to improve healthy lifestyles and promote both physical and mental health. But according to the woodland access standard, endorsed by government, 85 per cent of people in the UK don’t meet the target of having easy access to woodland green space near to where they live."

“We support the call by The Natural Capital Committee, in its 3rd Report to Government, for significant additional investment in major woodland creation programmes. Their research shows that large scale woodland creation projects, adding up to 250,000 additional hectares, located near towns and cities, could generate net societal benefits of £500 million per annum. This kind of large scale planting could be a mix of native and non-native planting schemes, delivering a wide range of environmental and economic benefits for numerous communities.”

“Together, Confor and The Woodland Trust want to see more woods and trees across many of our landscapes. We believe that putting more of the right trees in the right places can deliver real gains for society – environmentally and economically.”