Confor renews call to enshrine tree planting targets in legislation

17 March 2021

Tree planting targets must be enshrined in legislation if they are to be "meaningful and not just aspirational", Confor has stressed - after signing a joint letter calling for greater Government leadership on this vital issue.

The letter to Lord Goldsmith, the Minister responsible for forestry, is signed by 16 different organisations, including supermarket giant Sainsbury's, Ovo Energy, Leon Restaurants and The Woodland Trust.

Confor has already called for legally-binding targets in its evidence to the England Tree Strategy, submitted in September 2020 (read it here

"I was very happy to sign this joint letter as we really need to make these targets meaningful and not just aspirational," said Stuart Goodall, CEO of Confor. 

"The UK’s forestry and timber sector is fully behind Net Zero and the Government’s ambitious but achievable tree planting target. We stand ready to make our contribution and a binding legal commitment would provide confidence that this time Government will succeed where predecessors haven’t. 

"Planting trees and locking carbon up in wood products can play a significant role in Net Zero as well as a green recovery from the pandemic – the opportunity is huge, let’s make it happen!”.

In its Woodland Carbon targets in April 2019 Confor suggested 30,000 hectares of new planting annually across the UK was 'ambitious but achievable'. This was subsequently adopted by the new UK Government as its own target but only around 13,500 hectares of annual new planting is currently happening, with 80% of it in Scotland.

The letter - headed Support for a legally binding tree target - says: 

"We welcome your Department’s proactive approach to prioritise tree planting as part of its renewed efforts to protect and enhance the
environment. As a group of organisations, we are strongly supportive of the UK’s net zero commitments and believe tree planting is integral to tackling the climate crisis. Despite this, only 13% of the UK is forested, compared to an EU average of 38%.

Although the Government has committed to planting 30,000ha of tree cover per year, without supporting this commitment through binding legislation, we are concerned that the UK’s opportunity to demonstrate a world-leading commitment to afforestation and broader nature-based solutions ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) will fall short. 

Experience shows that when targets are not enshrined in law, they lack credibility and are too often missed. In England alone, you will know that we fell 71% short of targets in planting trees in the year to March 2019. We can, and must, do better.

We believe tree planting targets should be enshrined in UK laws. The publication of the Environmental Bill and England Tree Strategy
present an opportunity to do this. Legally binding targets would help elevate our tree planting ambitions, and mobilise the investment and action needed to expand and protect our woodlands so we meet the recommendations set out in the Climate Change Committee’s recent 6th Carbon Budget.

As signatories, we believe a legally binding target that considers best sustainable practices in urban and rural tree planting could help increase
biodiversity, reconnect people with nature and deliver on our net zero targets. Given the UK’s Presidency of COP26 this year, we hope your Department
will show domestic leadership by enshrining tree planting targets in legislation.

The signatories are Bower Collective; Confor; Ecologi; Forest Carbon; Forum for the Future; Futerra; Given; Greensphere; Hubbub; Leon, Naturally Fast Foods;  Nice and Serious; OVO Energy; Sainsbury's; The Conservation Volunteers; Woodland Trust; and Zero Carbon.

letter planting targets signatories