UK Politics

Public asked to help shape England's tree planting strategy

Woman jogging through wood in north London
Image caption There are approximately 3.21 million hectares of woodland in the UK

The public are being asked how and where they would like millions of new trees to be planted across England.

Ministers have launched a consultation on how to meet their pledge of trebling current planting levels to cover 30,000 hectares a year by 2025, equivalent to 30 million new trees each year.

The Forestry Commission said it hoped to ensure "the right tree is planted in the right place for the right reason".

Labour said the government needed to show more urgency and ambition.

All the political parties made ambitious commitments on tree planting during last year's election campaign as part of a renewed focus on bio-diversity and the role nature can play in reducing carbon emissions.

The government is now asking the public and other stakeholders, such as landowners, how best to achieve its aims, with a view to publishing a new tree strategy for England later this year.

The consultation will focus on:

  • How to accelerate tree planting to combat climate change
  • How to improve the management and protection of existing trees and ancient woodlands
  • How to further connect people to nature to enhance personal wellbeing
  • How to enhance the role that trees and woodlands play in supporting the economy

The 12-week process will invite views on how to build "widespread" public and private support for creating new woodlands, including providing greater incentives for farmers and landowners, increasing tree cover on public land, particularly in urban areas, and renewing wildlife-rich habitat.

'Woodland creation'

Sir William Worsley, the government's former National Tree Champion, who now chairs the Forestry Commission, said there was a need to find a balance between the "different benefits that our woodlands provide, to nature, to people, and to the economy".

"The England Tree Strategy will set out how we plan to accelerate woodland creation, but also importantly how to manage and protect the trees we already have."

The Committee on Climate Change has recommended increasing UK woodland cover from 13% of total land cover at the moment to a minimum of 17% by 2050, with the aim of hitting 19%.

Image copyright PA Media

Friends of the Earth warned the government's plans fall short of the advisory body's minimum targets and have called for an extra three billion new trees over the next 25 years, through a mixture of planting and rewilding.

"We think the UK needs to double its tree cover, to draw down millions of tonnes of carbon and make more space for nature," it said.

"We have the land to do so - what is missing is the political will."

And Labour criticised what it said was "yet another consultation" in a key policy area and pointed to the fact that the government had fallen well short of its target to plant 5,000 new hectares of trees in the year to March 2019.

"The government needs to show urgency and ambition to tackle the climate crisis, and ministers need to be honest about how far off target they currently are," said shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard.

The UK government says it wants to work closely with the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales, which are planting an additional 10,000 and 2,000 hectares respectively of woodland each year.

Ministers announced £640m in additional funding in March's Budget for a Nature for Climate Fund.

Environment minister Lord Goldsmith said protecting and growing the UK's forests and woodlands must be an "integral part" of the country's recovery from the coronavirus epidemic and "reaching net zero emissions by 2050".