PROTECTING and restoring existing trees and native woodland, investing in tree nurseries, and improving biosecurity at the border are key recommendations of a new report released by the Woodland Trust, which aims to increase tree cover in the UK.

The report, titled Emergency Tree Plan for the UK, sets out how the UK can rapidly increase tree cover to help reach net zero carbon emissions and tackle the declines in wildlife.

Key points of the plan include:

  • Design and fund an approach to woodland creation that addresses both the climate and nature crises together
  • Annual rates of woodland creation need to be more than doubled, starting in 2020
  • New targets for quality of woodland creation as well as quantity
  • New grants should be provided for natural regeneration of trees
  • An emergency increase in resources is required to help national and local government deliver on Government tree pledges across the UK.

A mix of approaches are required, the Woodland Trust said, which must include expanding native woodland, sustainable commercial plantations, agroforestry, urban trees, hedges and individual countryside trees.

The Trust said that in order to for the UK to reach the target of 17-19 per cent tree cover recommended by the Independent Climate Change Committee, trees will need to be planted on an “unprecedented” scale.

The UK is currently one of the least wooded countries in Europe with 13 per cent tree cover, seven per cent of which is native woodland. The European tree cover average is 37 per cent.

Dr Darren Moorcroft, Woodland Trust CEO, commented: As the chief executive of the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity I’m acutely aware that we start 2020 with more woods under threat from destruction than any other time in history. Tree planting rates are the lowest in decades, and one in 10 wildlife and plant species is under threat from extinction. Disease and pests have taken hold and risk wiping out millions of our native trees. Never has the picture appeared bleaker.

We’ve seen a lot of talk about trees and that is welcome but we’ve yet to see the action that is required. We’ve left ourselves a phenomenal amount to do in a very short space of time. The moment of crisis has come, and action needs to be taken this year.

“Government needs bold policies and local authorities and landowners need the support to act swiftly and of a scale to expand tree cover across the UK. I can’t stress enough that we can’t be here, in the same position next year for all our sakes.

“We at the Woodland Trust have a crucial role to play and so does everyone.”

Dr Moorcroft added: “Previous governments have tried to dramatically increase tree planting rates before. In doing so, some of our finest wildlife sites were damaged. We can’t afford to make the wrong decisions about how and where we expand tree cover. We don’t have time. And future generations are demanding urgent action for our wildlife and climate. We hope the Emergency Tree Plan will challenge Government to move forward at the scale and pace we need. We look forward to playing our part along with many other partners.”

The Trust is also launching a new campaign calling on the government in each UK country to adopt ambitious policies and plans for expanding tree cover and to provide the resources to do this.