WHEN Boris Johnson's Conservative Party held onto power in 2019, it had done so standing on a ticket with tree planting at heart. The UK would, Johnson and his allies said, plant 30,000 hectares of new woodland each year by the end of that parliamentary term.

Skip to the present day and how are we getting on? To be frank, we're nowhere close. Tree planting has stagnated in the UK and once again we've failed to reach even half of that ambitious goal.


New statistics released this week by Forest Research show just 13,840 ha were planted last year - only slightly higher than 2021's total of 13,410 ha.

Scotland came out on top of the country's four nations, creating 10,480 ha of new woodlands - about 80 per cent of its own annual target. England was next with 2,260 ha of new woodland, with Wales (580 ha) and Northern Ireland (540 ha) completing the list.

So, who's to blame?

In the wake of the publication of the report, Confor's Stuart Goodall called the planting rates a "total policy failure in both economic and environmental terms".

He went on to say the Prime Minister should take personal responsibility for the failings.

Andrew Heald, an influential figure, said there was "no accountability within DEFRA", as he blamed Zac Goldsmith's leadership.

READ MORE: UK tree planting: George Eustice and Mairi McAllan respond to Forest Research report

For their part, forestry ministers from across the UK have responded by reaffirming their commitment to hitting the hectare target.

Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said: “We have stretching and ambitious targets when it comes to tree planting, and just last year we launched the England Trees Action Plan."

Forestry Journal: George Eustice George Eustice

While, Scotland's Environment Minister Mairi McAllan said: “Over the last four years Scotland has consistently created over 10,000 ha of new woodland each year. This has been achieved during the challenges caused by Brexit, the global Covid pandemic, and the worst winter storms for over 10 years."

Welsh officials, who are hitting a mere 11 per cent of their target (the worst in the UK), tried to put a positive spin on things, with a spokesperson saying: “It’s encouraging that woodland creation in Wales doubled in 2021/22 but we need to do more to meet our target of creating 43,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030."

At the time of writing, Northern Ireland's Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs is still yet to comment.

Where this all leaves us is anyone's guess, but barring a miracle (a 17,000 hectare one at that) it's unlikely next year's picture will be any better. Maybe this will finally be the wake up call needed to take drastic action?

We'll wait and see.

This piece is an extract from today’s Forestry Latest News newsletter, which is emailed out at 4PM every Friday with a round-up of the week's top stories. 

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