Ambitious new tree planting targets in Scotland are leaving the rest of the UK in the shade – and other governments must now act to deliver jobs and reduce the impacts of climate change.
Confor, the UK trade body for forestry and timber, has praised the Scottish Government’s announcement, that it would raise its annual tree planting target from around 22 million trees to 33 million trees by 2024-25.
Scotland’s current target is 10,000 hectares per year (about 22 million trees) – double the 11 million trees the UK Government says it will plant in England in five years.
2016 was the worst year on record for tree planting in England and ministers have taken to using the claim that forest cover in England is at its highest since the 14th century to defend its record.
Confor calculated that even the modest ambition to plant 11 million trees during the lifetime of the 2015-2020 UK parliament will not be met. At current rates, the target will not be met until summer 2027.
In Wales, wood processing businesses recently highlighted concerns that jobs will be lost because of a lack of timber – fears shared by businesses across England.
Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of Confor, which has 1600 members across the UK, said: “The announcement by the Scottish Government means other administrations in the rest of the UK have to raise their game and make increased tree planting a priority in the same way Scotland’s devolved government has done.
“The Scottish Government has made it very clear that it is determined to meet its targets – to deliver jobs and investment to rural communities and to help meet its climate change mitigation targets. The cross-party commitment to Scotland’s £1 billion forestry sector was very clear in the excellent Scottish Parliament debate last week on delivering planting ambitions.”
Mr Goodall said the inquiry into forestry by the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs committee offered an opportunity to reboot forestry in England.
“In Scotland, we see enormous ambition for forestry to deliver on the three pillars of environmental, economic and social benefit,” Mr Goodall said. “In England, we have seen a dismal lack of ambition and planting described as pitiful by our members. The recent £19.2m Woodland Carbon Fund offers hope that planting will start pushing up, but we need large modern schemes to really make an impact and that requires a fit-for-purpose grant scheme to be in place – something we haven’t seen so far.
Mr Goodall highlighted the proposal to plant 650,000 trees at Doddington North Moor in Northumberland – a plan described by its local MP, Anne Marie Trevelyan, as one which ticks all the boxes.
“It is a scheme which has been designed sympathetically to fit into the local landscape and will have a positive impact in reducing downstream flood risks,” she said. “It will help reinforce the red squirrel buffer zone, protect jobs at the local sawmill and develop new employment by creating new supply chains.”
Mrs Trevelyan has criticised the UK Government for its lack of tree planting ambition and said it should be looking at a figure more like 200 million rather than 11 million trees
In Wales, just 100 hectares (only 220,000 trees) were planted last year – just 1/50 of the annual target of 5,000 hectares. Critics blame a lack of forestry focus in ‘super-agency’ Natural Resources Wales, with Penny Lloyd of North Wales timber merchant Clifford Jones saying tree planting is “vital for the survival of our industry”.
Chris Davies, Conservative MP for Brecon & Radnorshire and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry at Westminster, said: “There is a clear timber gap emerging in the 2030s due to the planting drop-off in the last 20 years. This is having a dreadful effect on the confidence and the investment plans of companies like Clifford Jones, sawmills in my own constituency and many other businesses across the UK. We have to plant now or a proportion of the 80,000 jobs sustained by the forestry and timber sector will be lost.
“If we plant now, our economy, environment and communities benefit in the short, medium and long term. If we do nothing, our economy, environment and communities will suffer. It’s a simple choice for me – more planting now.”
Image: Dumfries & Galloway in south-west Scotland