Trust warns that woodland cover could fall into decline

Disease, development and lack of incentives for new planting could see woodland cover fall into decline in parts of Britain, the Woodland Trust has warned.

Image: Morguefile
Image: Morguefile

Last month's Forestry Commission statistics (HW, 27 May) "show tree planting rates in sharp decline and ... belie a greater danger given that there is still no systematic annual recording of woodland losses", the organisation said.

Woodland creation targets were missed in all four parts of the UK in the 2014-15 season, with just 100ha planted in Wales compared to an official 5,000ha target. Yet Wales lost 3,300ha of larch forest threatened by Phytophthora ramorum under Statutory Plant Health Notices (SPHN) in 2013-14.

Some of these are plantations on ancient woodland sites and "critically important for wildlife", said the trust. "There is no legal requirement for woodland to be restocked after felling under a SPHN. While many woodland owners will replant or encourage natural regeneration, there is no compulsion to do so."

The last Rural Development Plan for England ended in 2013, with new woodland creation grants only reintroduced in February this year, the trust pointed out.

Meanwhile, ash dieback, is already impacting on the native ash tree population, overgrazing by deer remains a problem in upland areas in particular, while the Woodland Trust is monitoring 500 ancient woods under threat to development.

The trust's director of conservation Austin Brady said: "With threats to our natural environment posed by climate change, increasing pests and diseases and changing weather patterns leading to droughts and flooding, there is an urgent need to develop a landscape with greater resilience."

He added: "The Government's manifesto committed to taking up the Natural Capital Committee's recommendation for a 25-year recovery plan for nature in England. Increasing tree and woodland cover must be a priority within this plan to improve quality of life while delivering value for money."

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