The current rate of woodland creation in England means the Government will be seven years late in hitting its 11 million trees target, according to forestry trade body Confor.
The target of planting 11 million trees in the 2015-2020 parliamentary term has been repeated regularly by successive Cabinet ministers, including Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for the Environment, and her predecessor Elizabeth Truss.
However, latest Forestry Commission statistics show just 1.35 million trees have been planted since the Conservative Government came to office in the May 2015 election – an average of 75,166 trees per month.
“At that rate, it will take 12.2 years, taking us into late summer 2027, before the target is hit,” said Confor’s Chief Executive Stuart Goodall. “This simply isn’t good enough and much more needs to be done.
“We are very heartened by the recent announcement of the £19 million Woodland Carbon Fund – and the fact that it is targeted at schemes of more than 30 hectares. It is larger-scale planting that will really make a difference in hitting the target as well as delivering a wide range of economic, environmental and social benefits to our rural communities. We really encourage the industry to support this scheme and get more trees in the ground.”
Mr Goodall added: “The more fundamental problem is what is described in the planting figures as ‘a slower uptake of the new grant’ under the Countryside Stewardship scheme. Confor and others warned that the scheme would be cumbersome and unattractive and that has proved to be the case.
“Defra and Forestry Commission England are seeking to understand the practical barriers to planting trees and there is a strong argument to follow Scotland’s lead where a former Chief Planner Jim Mackinnon was appointed by the forestry minister to examine what those barriers are and how to overcome them.”
Scotland has planted an annual average of 7,000 hectares of trees per year over the last five years and the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, has committed to meeting the annual target of 10,000 hectares, which equates to at least 20 million trees every year (against the 11 million target in England over five years).
“Confor is committed to working with the UK and devolved governments to drive up planting and to support an industry which employs almost 80,000 people and contributes almost £2 billion to the UK economy every year,” said Mr Goodall.