COMMERCIAL FORESTRY trade body Confor has told a Westminster committee inquiry that the UK government needs to take urgent action to avoid past failures and rise to the challenge of meeting the country's highly ambitious tree planting targets.

Westminster's Environment, Food and Rural and Affairs (EFRA) Committee has questioned whether the target of 30,000 hectares of new woodland planting across the UK every year by 2025 can be met – as currently, less than 14,000 hectares are being planted annually, with 80% of that woodland creation happening in Scotland.

In its reply, Confor – which represents 1500 UK forestry and wood-using businesses – described the 30,000 target as 'ambitious but achievable' and in line with its own targets, set in 2019. However, it noted that the more modest 2015-2020 planting target of 11 million trees in England only fell more than four million trees short – and quoted a report from the independent Committee on Climate Change saying that UK '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.

“Since his appointment, forestry minister Lord Goldsmith has been taking a positive approach that Confor has welcomed. He has guaranteed funding for farmers and landowners wanting to plant trees now and consulted on a new England tree strategy. Our industry will work constructively with DEFRA to increase momentum in tree planting."

Mr Goodall added: “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.

"DEFRA and the Forestry Commission have failed in the past but they can succeed – through strong political leadership, positive collaboration with industry and across the UK, learning from best practice in Scotland and taking a joined-up approach to the whole forestry and wood industry. We look forward to working with Lord Goldsmith, the Forestry Commission and EFRA committee members to move woodland creation in England forward."