UK GOVERNMENT tree planting figures published on 15 June show that targets to create new woodland in England have been missed again – as they have been every year of this parliament.

The figures published by Forest Research reveal that 3,130 hectares of new woodland have been created in England this year, short of the 7,000 hectares per year target. Just 9,280 hectares of new woodland have been created since 2019.

Repeated failure to hit annual targets means the government is far short of its aim to plant 30,000 ha of new woodland in England by 2024. To hit it, more than 16,000 trees need to be planted in the next year.

Dr Darren Moorcroft, chief executive of the Woodland Trust, said: “Every year our response is the same – not enough, not fast enough, not good enough. The glacial speed at which tree planting is being rolled out worsens our position in the face of the nature and climate emergencies.

“This situation could get worse if funding for tree planting drops off a cliff at the end of this parliament. As things stand, money for large scale community planting such as the Northern Forest will cease, and the funding stream for landowners and farmers to plant trees will no longer be ring-fenced.

“Given there is cross-party consensus on the urgent need for more native trees, efforts to make this happen must transcend political cycles. There must be commitment to long term funding for trees so as governments come or go, the confidence of landowners is not shaken.

The Environmental Land Management system has been brought in by the government to pay farmers and landowners for public goods. In simple terms, they will be financially rewarded to take steps to tackle the nature and climate crises by adopting nature-friendly options in the way they manage parts of their land. The pick-and-mix approach means landowners can choose which options they wish to incorporate, whether ponds, meadows or trees, to name a few.

Darren Moorcroft says that relying on a very limited pot of agri-environment money that is needed to tackle nature loss and environmental challenges across multiple habitats and landscapes, not just woods and trees, risks no trees planted at all. He added: “If tree planting money is to be rolled into ELM and not ring-fenced, there is a real likelihood that trees will not go in at any great scale, making targets even more unachievable.

“More trees must be incorporated into farms to make land use more sustainable. Government must commit to long-term funding and support, and invest in the sector so farmers and landowners get the practical advice that may be deterring them. The system must become more streamlined without becoming a free for all – avoiding any tree anywhere. But at the moment we are at risk of no trees anywhere.”

Farmland presents a huge opportunity to increase tree canopy cover. It is estimated that currently, only 3.3 per cent of the 72 per cent of the UK’s land area that is agricultural is under agroforestry.

The UK is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, having just 13 per cent woodland cover compared to the European average of 37 per cent.

* More information from Forest Research here.

* Source: The Woodland Trust