Confor supports Climate committee's call for urgent action on tree planting

28 June 2023

Confor has welcomed a new report by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) which calls for urgent action to tackle the continued policy failure on tree planting in the UK. 

The CCC Progress Report notes the “large disparity between Government ambition for woodland creation and actual progress” - and the failure to make any headway since 2019 despite ambitious planting commitments by the UK Government.

It set a target of creating 30,000 hectares of new woodland across the UK annually within the lifetime of this parliament (2024/5). However, less than half of the target is being met.

The paper by the CCC, independent adviser to UK Government and the devolved administrations, says: "The rate of afforestation has not risen significantly since 2019, despite a small increase to 13,900 hectares in 2022 from 13,300 hectares in 2021. This is well short of the Government’s target for 30,000 hectares of woodland creation annually, requiring planting rates to more than double in the next two years."

The CCC report was written before the latest planting figures were released earlier this month - which show that rates are actually going backwards, with only 12,960 hectares of new woodland created in 2022/23, down almost 1,000 hectares on 2021/22. Within that total, new planting in England and Wales was slightly up, while Scotland saw a significant fall.

The report makes it clear that a large rise in planting rates is required: "Planting rates must increase significantly across the UK this decade to address the weakening forest sink and for sequestration benefits to be realised well before 2050."

The report also highlights the significant role that UK-grown timber can play in achieving net zero and recommends that the UK Government “Develop a comprehensive plan to increase the production and use of UK-sourced timber and support the long-term economic viability of domestic woodlands”.

Stuart Goodall, Confor CEO, says: "This report lays bare the need for radical action to get the UK back on track to net zero. Everyone is aware of the benefits of increased tree planting, especially more wood-producing forests to secure future timber supplies. More planting will help deliver our climate change targets, support wildlife and provide jobs and economic growth.

"Confor is working constructively with the UK Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison and her team at Defra to address the issues that the CCC has identified. The new Minister has taken a very positive approach to productive forestry and the increased use of UK grown timber. If we can turn that positive intention into action we believe we can begin to make real progress in England in the coming years.”

Mr Goodall said the forestry and wood industry was working on a National Wood Strategy for England, to grow more wood in this country and avoid ever increasing imports of wood. Currently the UK imports more than 80% of the wood products it consumes, which left an £11 billion hole in the UK balance sheet according to the latest figures.

“Confidence is coming back into the sector in England, and that is vital if we are to hit planting targets and secure the benefits of growing trees and producing more timber at home. I would stress, however, that confidence is fragile and it’s essential that all actions taken now support new woodland creation and ensure we have a growing productive resource of wood in England.”