INDUSTRY body Confor has launched its election manifesto, calling for more tree planting, better woodland management and more increased use of home-grown wood.

Chief executive Stuart Goodall said that while the parties’ manifestos showed that forestry and wood had moved up the political agenda significantly, there is still a lot of work to do to make the ambitious planting commitments happen.

Mr Goodall said: “This has been called the climate election and it is heartening to see the main parties have listened to the forestry and wood processing sector's consistent call for more tree planting - to help tackle the climate emergency but also to stimulate the rural economy, help reduce flood risk and encourage biodiversity.

"Many of the main parties' planting ambitions are closely aligned to Confor's Woodland Carbon Targets, published this year - and they also draw upon recommendations by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC UK)."

Tree planting and wood use have been identified by the CCC UK a “simple, low-cost option” to removing atmospheric carbon and reducing the impact of climate change.

In its manifesto, titled #TheFutureIsForestry, Confor calls on whoever forms the next government to plant 30,000 ha of new woodland annually by 2025 - 15,000 ha in Scotland; 7,500 ha in England; 6,000 ha in Wales; and 1,500 ha in Northern Ireland.

Mr Goodall welcomed the commitments of the main parties to new planting. The Conservatives have pledged to triple UK tree-planting rates to 30,000 ha every year, while the Lib Dems are promising 60 million trees per year, increasing UK forest cover by 1 million ha by 2045.

While Labour did not specify specific targets in its manifesto, it has now pledged to plant two billion new trees by 2040.

The SNP said it is working towards a target of 60 million trees planted annually by 2025, with 30 million of these in Scotland to help tackle the climate emergency and to support biodiversity and rural employment.

Mr Goodall said the SNP target is entirely realistic, based on the fact that 11,200 ha were planted in the year to March 31, 2019.

He continued: "It's great to see the huge ambition, but to actually drive up planting rates across the UK, we need a clear delivery plan. What has made a difference in Scotland is strong political leadership, improved approval processes, joined-up policy and positive collaboration between the public, private and voluntary sector. While there are some bold commitments in the manifestos, we need a real cultural change for this to happen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

The Confor manifesto also calls on the next party of government to deliver on the pledge to plant a new forest in Northumberland, and to create regional forest partnerships elsewhere in England and Wales to plant more forests at scale.

Mr Goodall also welcomed the enhanced focus on planting in the manifestos produced by the Green Party and Plaid Cymru.

However, Mr Goodall added that Confor’s manifesto is not just about new planting: "It also calls for our existing woodlands to be better managed, to unlock their potential to deliver a wide range of benefits.

“Managing our existing woods better can deliver speedier benefits in terms of mitigating climate change effectively through faster growth and wood products, but also delivering wider benefits in terms of biodiversity, rural employment, recreation and much more.

“Finally, using more home-grown wood will displace energy-intensive (and carbon-intensive), materials in construction and around our homes.”