Two of the projects were economic failures. There are also doubts about whether three of them can survive in the long term unsupported by foreign aid.
The benefits for people living around the plantations have been slight and they have also lost grazing land for their animals, according to a critical independent report.
The criticisms come in a consultants' report commissioned by the UK's Overseas Development Administration (ODA). It rates three of the four projects, in Lesotho, Kenya and the Ivory Coast, as partially successful while one at Karnataka in southern India is rated successful.
Friends of the Earth has written to Baroness Chalker, the Minister for Overseas Aid, asking for an urgent review of Britain's expanding forestry aid programme in the light of the findings. The UK is now spending pounds 27m a year on 187 Third World forestry projects.
But the ODA said all four projects had achieved some overall benefit. Valuable lessons had been learnt which were now being applied.
In the Ivory Coast, which has lost almost all of its rainforests in the past few decades, Britain was a main contributor towards a pounds 50m project maintaining 22,000 hectares of existing timber plantation and creating 36,000 hectares of new ones. But SODEFOR, the Ivory Coast's state-owned forestry organisation, which had the lead role, suffered poor management and was starved of funds by its government. Its staff, who had problems getting paid, lost morale and motivation.
Some 40,000 hectares of natural forest damaged by logging were cleared during the project. The end result was an increased fire risk, soil degradation and loss of wildlife. But clearing the forest for plantations was thought to be less environmentally destructive than turning it into farmland.
In Lesotho in southern Africa, Britain paid pounds 2m between 1972 and 1987 for establishing 320 small plantations providing wood fuel for villagers and setting up a national forestry policy and service. Local people had hardly any say in the project and the plantations are now underused and uneconomic, the report says.
While all four aid projects succeeded in establishing large areas of trees they were flawed from the start, with the donors and receivers of aid often having quite different ideas of what the key objectives were.
Too little weight was given to local people's needs. Attempts to bring good management practices and sound administration to the governments and forestry services of the Third World countries involved made disappointing progress.
A spokesman for ODA said its aid projects were now more carefully planned and monitored. More attention was given to the impact on local people - particularly the poor - and the environment. 'We've been self- critical in public and learnt important lessons,' he said.Reuse content