INDUSTRY body Confor has told a Westminster committee inquiry that the government needs to take urgent action to avoid past failures and rise to the challenge of meeting ambitious UK tree-planting targets.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee has asked whether the target of 30,000 ha of new woodland planting across the UK every year by 2025 can be met.

Currently, less than 14,000 ha are being planted annually, with 80 per cent of woodland creation happening in Scotland.

In its reply, Confor – which represents 1,500 forestry and wood-using businesses in the UK – says the 30,000 target is “ambitious but achievable” and in line with its own targets, set in 2019.

However, it notes that the more modest 2015–2020 planting target of 11 million trees (in England only) fell more than 4 million trees short – and quotes a report from the independent Committee on Climate Change, saying “tree-planting policy has failed outside of Scotland”.

Confor’s response calls for:

  • an urgent review of processes for tree planting applications and approvals – in line with the successful 2016 Mackinnon Review in Scotland, credited for helping push up planting rates;
  • a coordinated UK-wide approach to the 30,000-hectare target, currently not in place;
  • planting targets to be clearly linked to delivering other policy objectives – mitigating climate change, supporting biodiversity and delivering rural jobs and growth;
  • clear targets to use more home-grown wood – the UK is the second highest global net importer of wood after China, and using more wood will lock up more carbon;
  • a joined-up approach, linking tree planting with increased management of existing woodland and greater wood use in a seed-to-mill approach.

Confor CEO Stuart Goodall said: “The last government’s tree-planting policies failed and fell well short of the target, because previous ministers did not heed growing calls for more wood-producing forests to help meet demand. Planting more of these forests and using more home-grown timber are now front and centre when we talk about removing atmospheric carbon to start mitigating the impacts of climate change.

“Confor welcomes the ambitious target and the fact it is UK-wide – but there must be clear UK-wide coordination to deliver it. As our response says, that is not happening. The Inter-Ministerial Group for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has met seven times since the December 2019 election, but has not discussed woodland creation once.”

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