(Image: FJ)

This piece is an extract from our A View from the Forest (previously Forestry Features) newsletter, which is emailed out at 4PM every Wednesday with a round-up of the week's top stories. 

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THERE is a markedly different air about this general election than the last when it comes to trees.

Whereas 2019's race saw the political parties falling over one another to promise wildly unachievable woodland-creation targets – as came to pass with the winning Conservatives and the never-once-hit pledge of 30,000 hectares annually – this time around trees and their benefits appear to have been relegated to the sidelines.

For many, that will be understandable. Since the last election, we have had COVID, a recession, and spiralling costs that have hurt people in every corner of the UK. However, for others, it's further evidence of the climate crisis being kicked down the road for future generations to deal with.

Sir Ed Davey promised to plant at least 60 million trees a yearSir Ed Davey promised to plant at least 60 million trees a year (Image: Press Association)

As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, we have had two party manifestos, both of which mention trees but – predictably – lack any great details.

First out of the traps was the Liberal Democrats, who on Monday made the bold pledge of planting "at least" 60 million trees every year. The document added that the party also wanted to "increase the use of sustainable wood in construction".

While the latter part is to be applauded, the former promise appears to have been plucked out of thin air, even if it is a repeat of a 2019 commitment. By some estimates, 60 million trees could be as much as 60,000 ha each year (albeit it's much more likely to be somewhere around the 30,000-40,000 ha mark). In the last half decade, the UK has failed to create even 14,000 hectares of new woodland. Whatever way you swing it, we're a long way off that ambition, and that's before we consider just where these 60 million trees would come from; many of the seedlings for the 2024/25 and 2025/26 planting seasons will have long been in production.

As for the Conservatives – who followed the LibDems on Tuesday – trees do not appear to be high on the agenda. Unlike before, there is no obvious number quoted in the manifesto, with Rishi Sunak's party instead promising to "stick to our tree planting commitments" as set out in the Nature for Climate funding. Taking that at face value, this means the 30,000 ha annual goal remains on the table.

Rishi Sunak's manifesto doesn't explicitly mention a woodland creation or tree planting goalRishi Sunak's manifesto doesn't explicitly mention a woodland creation or tree planting goal

Elsewhere, the party said it would "cut planting red tape" (without setting out any great detail as to how) and "introduce forest risk commodities legislation".

Over the coming weeks, the other parties will all have a go at promising something at least tangibly related to forestry. How many of these are achievable commitments? That remains to be seen.

Editor's note: Due to being out of the office, this newsletter had been prepared in advance. On Wednesday, the Green Party of England and Wales* didn't outline any specific targets but promised to "advocate for a substantial increase in productive forestry, in addition to increases in woodland".