New woodland creation statistics: Wales update

20 June 2024

Dismal new tree planting figures in Wales are failing the country’s economic and environmental future, according to Confor.

New statistics show just 640 hectares of new woodland was created in 2023-2024 in Wales, down from 1190 hectares in 2022-23 and way off Welsh Government targets.

The figures included just 10 hectares of wood-producing conifer forests - despite the ambition to use more Welsh wood in Welsh homes. 

Elaine Harrison, National Manager (Wales) for Confor: promoting forestry and wood said: “These are dismal figures - especially when the UK-wide picture is much brighter. Both Scotland and England planted far more woodland than the previous year and the overall UK total was up significantly. Yet Wales is going backwards - and this failure is failing our rural economy, where we could be creating jobs and growth, and our environment, as we need to plant far more trees to address the climate emergency.”

In 2021, the then Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change Lee Waters said in a written statement that Wales needed “a step change increase in woodland creation to tackle the climate emergency”. Based on recommendations by the independent Climate Change Committee, the target was 43,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030, and 180,000 hectares by 2050. 

Elaine Harrison said: “That meant planting at least 5,000 hectares of new woodland every year - a significant increase on the 2,000 hectares per year suggested by the Welsh Government strategy Woodlands for Wales in 2019.

“Yet even that lower target has never been hit - 2,000 hectares of new planting has not been achieved in Wales for almost 50 years! 

“The fall from 1190 hectares in 2022-23 to 640 this year is a huge disappointment, and the 10 hectares of conifer planting beggars belief. The UK imports 81% of the  timber it uses and must grow more of its own wood as global demand soars as timber is used much more for sustainable building.

“Scotland and England have taken steps to grow more wood for the future, but Wales is stagnating.”

Ms Harrison said planting more trees could happen without any impact on food production. This could be done by following a similar path to England, where mapping has identified marginal land suitable for tree planting - with a presumption of approval for high-quality planting schemes proposed in those areas.

She also suggested Wales could look at a review of its application and approval process for tree planting, like Scotland did in 2016.

“A radical review of the system is needed as it clearly does not work. It is currently a system which makes it incredibly hard to plant trees, with prospective woodland creation applicants having to overcome many expensive hurdles. The trial and error approach by the Welsh Government is driving enthusiasm down, damaging confidence and harming the forestry industry, risking jobs and economic growth. 

“We can, and must, grow quality timber in Wales, but we just need to get it through the approval system. The Mackinnon Review in Scotland identified the barriers and came up with proposals for improvement, and pushed up planting figures significantly. England has carried out its mapping exercises and streamlined its processes and this is also starting to make an impact.

“The big irony here is that most people love the idea of building homes and making products with Welsh wood - but then don’t want conifer trees to be planted. We have to make that connection between the two.

“Welsh wood is used to create timber-framed houses, cladding, kitchens, flooring, fencing, and pallets – the backbone of our national and international distribution system and without pallets we simply wouldn’t get anything moved from one place to another.” 

Ms Harrison concluded: “There is a much bigger picture here. If Wales wants to reduce the risks of flooding, have cleaner water, greater soil health, provide better shelter for animals, have forest recreation opportunities, enable carbon storage, have cleaner air and increase our timber security for our future, we need to grow many more trees.  These trees need to be a range of varieties - fast-growing conifers and slow-growing hardwoods.