New statistics from the Forestry Commission released today show the rate of tree planting is far lower than is needed to meet Government targets – despite efforts by landowners who applied for woodland creation grants last year.
Just 3,300 hectares of new woodland was planted in England in the 2013-14 planting season – an increase of just 700 ha on the 2012-13 figure of 2,600ha but still far short of the 5,000ha target.1
In Scotland, 8,300ha was planted, 1,300ha more than last year but again, far short of the 10-15000ha target. In Wales 900ha was planted – equal to last year’s figure but short of the 5,000ha target. And in Northern Ireland where the aspiration is to double woodland cover, planting reached just 300ha.2
In England, the Government stated both in its Forestry Policy Statement 2013 and the update in 2014 that the current rate ‘could be accelerated… to achieve 12% woodland cover by 2060, an average planting rate of 5,000ha per year, provided private investment in woodland creation increases in line with our expectations.’
It is thought the slight upturn in England’s planting figures this year is likely to be due to a rush from landowners to apply for woodland creation grants before the old scheme closed early in December 2013. Changes made to the way grant funding is allocated through the Rural Development Plan for England now means that there will be no new grants available until applications reopen in 2015.
From now on, through the scheme, Government has stated it will fund a maximum of 2,000 ha per year in England but will ‘put in place the conditions for a step change in rates of woodland creation and management through private finance’. It is clear this step change is yet to be made.
A funding gap in England of two years was only abated by a Woodland Trust campaign backed by more than 30,000 people convincing the Government to reconsider and open applications for grants again in early 2015.
The last time planting of more than 5,000ha was actually achieved in England was 2005.
Woodland Trust Director of Conservation, Austin Brady, said:
“Government committed to put in place the conditions for a step change in woodland creation but these figures suggest that has just not happened. Defra has stated that central grants will fund a maximum of just 2,000 hectares in the 2015/16 planting season, leaving the private sector to fund an additional 3,000 hectares, for which there is no historical precedent.
“Furthermore, there is a lack of transparency about what these figures actually mean. Woodland losses are barely referred to in the statistics and are not being recorded adequately, making their interpretation in terms of overall woodland cover impossible. It is vital losses are recorded if any perceived progress towards set aspirations is to be accurately measured.
“Our woods and trees face a battery of assault from climate change, pests and disease, and development. At a time when there is an urgent need to build environmental resilience the right incentives are clearly not in place yet.”
Trees play a vital role in delivering an ecologically resilient landscape and evidence shows that tree planting can have major beneficial outcomes for landowners in terms of improving water quality and quantity, preventing soil erosion and flooding, and providing shelter and shade for crops and livestock. Other benefits include improving air quality, general mental and physical wellbeing, and biodiversity.