New woodland creation statistics: England update

20 June 2024

The next UK Government has been urged to build on encouraging new figures on tree planting - and create more wood-producing forests in England to provide the timber the country badly needs.

Official planting statistics show 4,550 hectares of new woodland was created in England in 2023-24 - up from 3,130 hectares in 2022-23. 

A sharp increase in woodland creation in Scotland - where forestry policy is devolved to the Scottish Government - saw the UK-wide figure rise to a modern-day high of 20,660 hectares.

Just 640 hectares were planted in Wales and 430 in Northern Ireland. 

The UK-wide figure is up from just under 13,000 hectares in 2022-23 - but is still almost 10,000 hectares below the independent Climate Change Committee of 30,000 hectares of new woodland creation every year. 

John Bruce, Confor’s National Manager for England, said there were grounds for optimism - but insisted the amount of wood-producing conifer forests had to increase in the coming years. 

He explained: “There is an ambition to increase the proportion of softwood-producing forests in England to at least 30% supported by Sir William Worsley, Chair of the Forestry Commission, in the National Wood Strategy for England. The new figures show that this figure is currently less than 10% and this is a key area for improvement.” 

Mr Bruce said he hoped the proportion of wood-producing forests would increase in the next few years on the back of crucial work already done to streamline the consultation process for new planting applications and improve the funding package in the England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO). 

“Funding is being targeted specifically to encourage EWCO applications on low sensitivity land, avoiding land most suitable for food production. This gives more certainty that new planting projects will happen on these low-sensitivity areas that have been mapped out by the Forestry Commission,” Mr Bruce said. 

“The increased EWCO capital window to three years (in place for all new applications since January 2023) will also hopefully encourage more larger schemes, which take longer to complete. Although figures this year for wood-producing forests are a little disappointing, I’m confident we will see a pick-up in 2024-25 if this positive approach continues.” 

Mr Bruce said there was still room for improvement in the “complex and time-consuming” application process - and in ensuring timber production had a central place in future planning. 

“While we recognise the importance of bird surveys and protecting habitats, it’s vital the next UK Government also recognises the importance of long-term timber security,” he added 

“Confor will continue working closely with the next UK Government to ensure we can deliver against this critical commitment, and tackle the net loss of wood-producing forests. This would support net zero ambitions and provide a long-term timber supply for a more sustainable construction industry - and help address long-term timber security challenges.” 

Confor’s Chief Executive Stuart Goodall added: “The UK imports more than 80% of the wood it uses - and respected forecasts show this will become far more difficult to source as global timber demand increases significantly. Producing more home-grown wood has to be a priority for the next UK Government - especially when all parties want to build more homes, and to build more of them using sustainable timber rather than concrete, steel and brick. 

“Alongside protecting the existing vitally important softwood resource we have in England, there has to be much more planting of wood-producing forests. This will deliver massive future benefits - addressing the climate and nature crises and bringing jobs and growth to the UK’s rural communities.” 

Confor has set out a 5-point plan on how an incoming UK Government can boost tree planting and wood use in its 2024 election manifesto, which can be accessed here.