New woodland creation in the UK as a whole is flat at just under 13,500 hectares annually, according to the latest official statistics – well below 50% of the target of 30,000 hectares which the UK Government has committed to hit by 2024/5.

According to Confor CEO Stuart Goodall, England and Wales in particular need to do much more to increase planting to help tackle the climate emergency, and address booming global demand for timber.

The latest Forest Research statistics showed that Scotland planted 79% of the UK's new woodland in the year to March 31, 2021, some 10,660 hectares, while England only managed 2,180 hectares, Wales 290 and Northern Ireland 280. The overall UK total of 13,410 hectares was slightly down on last year’s 13,460 hectares.

Mr Goodall said: “While bad weather this spring hampered some woodland creation, it's clear from these figures that governments will need to do more, and in the case of England and Wales much more, to meet their planting targets which are such a key part of achieving net zero and tackling the climate emergency. The challenge for the UK Government to meet its manifesto commitment for 30,000 hectares a year across the UK by 2025 appears frankly mountainous.

“Scotland has again planted the majority of Britain's new forests with 10,660 hectares of new woodland being created, and it will be interesting to see how efforts made to ‘catch-up’ on lost planting time in spring feed through into the Scottish Government target for the year of 12,000 hectares.

“Figures from Wales are particularly disappointing this year. Performance in the recent past shows Wales has the capacity to plant many more trees and we look forward to urgent action from the new Welsh Government to deliver on its promise to remove the barriers to new planting.”

Mr Goodall said that in England, new tree planting rates would have to at least treble within four years if it is to meet the goals set out in the recently published England Trees Action Plan: “This will be incredibly difficult while the planting of productive forests – which produce the everyday, low carbon wood products we all need for our homes, gardens and workplaces – are at rock-bottom levels.

“As anyone who is seeking to buy a wood garden product or embark on a DIY project will know, there are unprecedented shortages and price increases. The world wants more wood, not least because it can both help reduce carbon emissions and lock away carbon from the atmosphere. We need more forests here.”

The House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recently took evidence from a wide range of organisations who all agreed how challenging meeting targets will be.

Mr Goodall concluded: “The UK Government needs to learn the lessons from Scotland as the only part of the UK able to achieve the type of increase in woodland creation rates at a level needed to combat the global climate emergency we are all facing. More forests and more wood products can play a vital part in addressing that emergency – and Scotland is showing the way.”

Commenting on Scotland's relative success at hitting its planting targets, Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform, Màiri McAllan, said there had been 'positive progress' by land managers both large and small:

“Despite the significant impact of Covid-19, there has been a tremendous enthusiasm for tree planting in Scotland, and we are confident that as grant claims are made over the summer, we will meet this government’s first 100 days commitment to complete the creation of 12,000 hectares of new woodland.

“We need to build on this and create more woodlands to tackle climate change, boost our economy and improve our environment. And we must expand our forests and woodlands in a careful and considered way," she stressed.

“Future planting levels look very encouraging. Scottish Forestry has already issued approved contracts that will realise nearly 9000 hectares of new woodland this year and there are many other woodland creation proposals under development.

“What has been achieved is quite remarkable in the most trying and unprecedented of years," said Ms McAllan. "I’d like to praise the hard work of land managers and everyone else in the forest industries who have helped in the national effort and planted for Scotland.”

Of the total new woodlands, at least 3000 hectares were native species, meeting the commitment in the Biodiversity Strategy to plant between three and five thousand hectares of native woodland each year.

Scotland has ambitious woodland creation targets which are rising from 12,000 hectares a year to 18,000 hectares a year by 2024/25.