New planting in UK flat - with a mountain to climb to hit target

17 June 2021

New woodland creation in the UK is flat at just under 13,500 hectares annually, according to official statistics released today - well below 50% of the target of 30,000 hectares which the UK Government has committed to hit by 2024-5.

England and Wales in particular need to do much more to increase planting to help tackle the climate emergency - and address booming global demand for timber, according to Confor CEO Stuart Goodall. 

He was commenting on Forest Research statistics published today, showing that Scotland planted 79% of the new woodland in the year to March 31, 2021 (10,660 hectares). England planted 2,180 hectares, Wales 290 and Northern Ireland 280. The UK total of 13,410 hectares was slightly down on last year’s 13,460 hectares. 

Mr Goodall said: “While bad weather this spring hampered some woodland creation, it's clear from these figures that governments will need to do more, and in the case of England and Wales much more, to meet their planting targets which are such a key part of achieving net zero and tackling the climate emergency.  

“The challenge for the UK Government to meet its manifesto commitment for 30,000 hectares a year across the UK by 2025 appears frankly mountainous. 

“Scotland has again planted the majority of Britain's new forests with 10,660 hectares of new woodland being created, and it will be interesting to see how efforts made to ‘catch-up’ on lost planting time in spring feed through into the Scottish Government target for the year of 12,000 hectares.   

“Figures from Wales are particularly disappointing this year. Performance in the recent past shows Wales has the capacity to plant many more trees and we look forward to urgent action from the new Welsh Government to deliver on its promise to remove the barriers to new planting.” 

Mr Goodall said that in England, new tree planting rates would have to at least treble within four years if it is to meet the goals set out in the recently published England Trees Action Plan. “This will be incredibly difficult while the planting of productive forests – which produce the everyday, low carbon wood products we all need for our homes, gardens and workplaces - are at rock-bottom levels.   

“As anyone who is seeking to buy a wood garden product or embark on a DIY project will know, there are unprecedented shortages and price increases. The world wants more wood, not least because it can both help reduce carbon emissions and lock away carbon from the atmosphere. We need more forests here.” 

This week, the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee took evidence from a wide range of organisations who all agreed how challenging meeting targets will be. 

Mr Goodall concluded: “The UK Government needs to learn the lessons from Scotland as the only part of the UK able to achieve the type of increase in woodland creation rates at a level needed to combat the global climate emergency we are all facing. More forests and more wood products can play a vital part in addressing that emergency - and Scotland is showing the way.”