'Worrying' slump in tree planting prompts fears of deforestation

A A A

Planting of new trees has fallen to its lowest level in more than three decades across Britain, leading conservationists said yesterday.

Efforts to replace woodland in the United Kingdom, once so densely forested that trees which have sustained human populations for 6,000 years covered 90 per cent of the land mass, have slowed dramatically in the past six years, falling from 12,000 hectares of newly-planted woods in 2004 to just 5,000 hectares last year.

Britain is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, with half the average tree cover, and half of its ancient woodland lost since the 1930s. It is a worrying development at a time when reforestation is a priority to offset the effects of climate change.

Figures released by the Forestry Commission, the Government body in charge of managing Britain's woodlands, show that 2.85 million hectares of land in the UK is covered by woods – equivalent to 12 per cent of the total land area. According to the Commission, the figure represents an increase in woodland of 0.2 per cent since 2002.

But conservationists challenged the statistics, saying they failed to take into account factors including a huge loss of hedgerow trees and swathes of woodland cut down to make way for wind farms and developers. This means that far from increasing the amount of tree cover in Britain, it is actually likely to be falling.

The Woodland Trust, Britain's leading woodland conservation charity, said there had already been a loss of 9,000 hectares of tree cover in England between 1999 and 2008. The charity called on the Government to reverse the falling trend in new tree planting, which has dropped from a peak of 28,300 hectares in 1976 to less than a fifth of that level.

Sue Holden, the trust's chief executive, said: "There figures are truly worrying but should be seen as a clarion call to us all to reverse the downward trend as a matter of urgency. Woods and trees are not a luxury but essential for our future quality of life.

"We are concerned that with planting rates so low, the result may be a loss of woodland cover, at a time when increasing it is essential. There is an urgent need to compensate for these losses with large-scale woodland creation elsewhere."

Despite efforts by the Forestry Commission and private landowners to bolster planting, with the vast majority of new planting using wildlife-friendly broadleaf rather than coniferous species, the conservationists argue that four main factors have obstructed the programme to expand Britain's woodlands.

These are: pressure to build new housing; demand for windfarms; moves to fell woodland to create open habitat to increase biodiversity; and the reshaping of forests in the landscape.

For example, in Snowdonia, 3,500 acres of forest has been earmarked for felling to make way for wind turbines, while the Trust says that some 800 woods equivalent to the size of Birmingham have been under threat from developers in the last decade.

The problem is compounded, according to the trust, by a devastating loss of mature trees outside woodlands in locations such a hedgerows or fields. In England alone, there has been a 64 per cent decline in "individual" trees.

The Forestry Commission said it accepted there had been a decline in tree planting, but says it has plans which will see 100,000 hectares of new woodland planted in Wales by 2030 and 50,000 hectares planted in Scotland by 2015.

A Commission spokesman said: "The figures suggest that Britain's woodland area continues to increase, as it has for the past 90 years."

Suggested Topics
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?