New UK forests could create up to 40,000 jobs, according to new report

26 May 2023

Tens of thousands of new green jobs could be created in the UK if ambitious tree planting targets are met, a report by the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has revealed.

The CCC, independent adviser to the UK Government and devolved administrations, said that “afforestation could see up to 40,000 new jobs” being created. Its report also says that “two-thirds of the most suitable land for tree planting in Great Britain is in constituencies with greater than average labour market challenges.”

A Net Zero Workforce highlights areas of the economy - including forestry and horticulture - which have the potential to have a significant impact on the UK’s efforts to meet its net zero targets by 2050 (2045 in Scotland) while also delivering economic growth and employment.

Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, said: “This a very timely report for the forestry and wood processing industry, with a clear central message; expanding forest cover could create tens of thousands of jobs and deliver enormous environmental benefits. With the economy perilously close to recession, governments across the UK are seeking ways to stimulate low-carbon, green growth and this report makes clear forestry can be an important part of that.”

However, Mr Goodall also voiced concerns that current rates of new tree planting were lagging well behind targets, and said swift action was needed to deliver the economic and environmental potential outlined in the CCC report.

He said: “The UK Government target - based on the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations - is 30,000 hectares of new woodlands every year by 2025. At the moment, we are not even planting half of that and it is likely that new woodland creation statistics for 2022-23, due to be published in June, will show that progress towards meeting that goal has plateaued.

The CCC report identifies that the transition to Net Zero will bring opportunity and challenge, including in land-use and agriculture, one of the key sectors that it examines. The report identifies that tree planting/forestry will grow, as will non-livestock agriculture, but that livestock agriculture will contract.

The report also highlights the importance of governments taking an active role to make a positive difference to the process of transition, including:

  • Identifying key sectors, eg agriculture, land-use and forestry;
  • Bringing the sectors together to plan for the transition;
  • Offering government funding for reskilling, accessible career advice and the availability of alternative employment.

Mr Goodall welcomed the CCC’s advice. “If we continue to deliver tree planting and increased use of wood products to achieve Net Zero then the industry will need many thousands of new jobs. We are keen to work with governments and farming representatives in a strategic, considered way and call on governments to bring the parties together to maximise the opportunities for creating jobs in areas undergoing transition.”

Mr Goodall noted that long-term employment comes from managed woodland, especially those that produced sustainable supplies of wood. Therefore, as well as stepping up efforts to achieve planting targets, government needs to ensure that new planting includes a significant element of wood-producing forests, as they create more ‘downstream’ jobs in harvesting and wood processing - delivering future timber supplies to help reduce the UK’s over-reliance on imports.

Mr Goodall said that “Damaging climate change is the biggest challenge we face and our forests, especially those that produce wood products, can make a vital contribution to meeting our Net Zero targets. As this report shows they can also provide new jobs and support a low-carbon economy.”

“The UK currently imports 81% of the wood products we use, which is simply unsustainable,” he said. “It is economically expensive - recent government statistics show annual timber imports cost the UK economy £11.5 billion - and environmentally damaging. Soaring global demand for wood puts more pressure on fragile forests in countries with weaker forest management standards. By planting more wood-producing forests in the UK, we can deliver economic and environmental benefits at home - and protect fragile woodlands overseas.”

“The message from the CCC is very clear - that significant new tree planting delivers enormous benefits for the UK economy and environment. Put simply, the future is forestry.”