UK government ‘to miss tree planting targets by over 40 years’, says Labour

If current rates of planting continue, the UK won’t reach its 2050 climate targets until 2091, analysis suggests

Harry Cockburn
Tuesday 25 May 2021 18:13 BST
Forest in Dartmoor National Park, Devon. Just seven per cent of the UK’s forests are in good ecological shape, according to a recent report
Forest in Dartmoor National Park, Devon. Just seven per cent of the UK’s forests are in good ecological shape, according to a recent report (Getty)

The rate of tree planting currently being done across the UK is so low the government will only reach the level required to hit its legally-binding climate targets by 2091, more than 40 years later than the 2050 deadline, Labour has said.

The UK has one of the lowest areas of tree cover of any country in Europe, with forests accounting for just 13 per cent of the country. In comparison 32 per cent of Germany is forested, and 36 per cent of France is covered by forest.

The Committee on Climate Change – an independent body set up to advise the government – has said that UK forest cover should increase to a minimum of 17 per cent by 2050 to meet our climate goals.

But last year (2019-20) just 13,660 hectares of new forest were planted across the UK.

If this rate is continued, the 17 per cent target won’t be met until 2091 – more than 40 years late.

Under this projection, in 2050 the UK will still be less than halfway to the target, with only 14.7 per cent of the UK wooded and more than half a million hectares left to plant, Labour said.

Labour’s criticism comes as the government’s delayed Environment Bill is set to be debated in Parliament.

The bill has been criticised for failing to match the scale of the climate and ecological crisis, and for not including a strategy to hit the government’s own tree planting target.

Labour’s shadow environment secretary, Luke Pollard said: “The Environment Bill goes nowhere near far enough to match the scale of the crisis facing us.

“The government are once again on the back foot on environmental issues, we need more trees and better protections to restore our most vulnerable habitats across Britain.

“We face a huge challenge and we need a bold approach. If we are to overcome the climate and ecological crisis, we need the government to step up and significantly ramp up their tree planting strategy.”

Labour said it will be amending the bill to include a new “Tree Planting Strategy”.

They said this will include setting aside an extra 30,000 hectares of woodland in an effort to reduce net carbon emissions and restore habitats.

Late last year amid reports that levels of tree planting were “tragically inadequate”, and “far below” what was required to meet climate targets, Boris Johnson said his government would aim to plant 30,000 hectares of new forest a year across the whole of the UK by 2050.

In a Defra briefing on the government’s “England Tree Action Plan” – part of the forthcoming Environment Bill – the department indicated it would at least double current rates of planting to hit the targets.

It said the planting initiative was a “once in a lifetime plan which will see an unprecedented number of trees planted and will be supported with over £500m funding from the Nature for Climate Fund to spend on trees between 2020 and 2025.

“We are confident that we are on track to meet the UK-wide target of planting 30,000 hectares per year by the end of this parliament in May 2024 and continue to work closely with the devolved administrations to raise ambition on tree planting as we meet our shared responsibility of net zero emissions.”

Last month a study by the Woodland Trust found just seven per cent of the country’s forests are in good ecological shape and that Britain’s native woodlands are approaching “crisis point”, as they are under siege from threats including climate change, nitrogen pollution, habitat damage, imported diseases and invasive species.

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