Net woodland loss in England "highly likely", trust warns

Years of gradual increase in woodland cover in England will go into reverse if low woodland creation and other trends prevail, the Woodland Trust has warned.

Image: Ina Widegren (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Image: Ina Widegren (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The government's forestry and woodland policy aims for a rise in tree cover in England from the current 10 per cent to 12 per cent by 2060, entailing 5,000 hectares of new woodland creation every year.

But the latest figures published this week show just 700 hectares of woodland was created in England in the year to March - less than one-seventh of this target, and less than one-third of the previous year's figures.

The trust's director of conservation and external affairs Austin Brady said: "Something is drastically wrong with the way woodland planting is being supported across the various government departments that share responsibility for trees and woods.

"On top of poor planting rates, woodland losses and weak protection of ancient woods mean in England, deforestation is highly likely, with some areas of woodland felled or destroyed and not replanted. Despite repeated requests; there is little government effort to accurately quantify the cumulative losses of woodland resulting from planning, infrastructure, tree disease and intensive land use."

The trust says more flexible programmes are needed to grant aid both smaller and larger areas of woodland creation and attract a wider range of landowners willing to plant.

The total figure for new planting the UK was 5,500ha, with Scotland accounting for 84 per cent of the area, though even this was less than half the Scottish Government's annual target of 10,000ha.

In Wales just 100ha was planted, despite the Welsh Government aspiration of 100,000ha of new woodland by 2030.

The overall gradual increase in UK woodland cover continues however, having risen by around 240,000 hectares since 1998. But the area of certified woodland, which accounts for 43 per cent of all woodland, fell slightly in the last year.

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