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By Building Societies Association

Increased tree planting will benefit the environment and the economy

Confor | Wood for Good

4 min read Partner content

Enhanced tree planting and greater wood use can help deliver the UK Government’s short-term imperative (a Green Recovery from Covid-19), medium-term goal (Build Back Better) and long-term aim (Net-Zero by 2050).

The UK Government has promised, repeatedly, to plant 30,000 hectares of new woodland every year by 2025.

Speaking to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry and Tree Planting recently, forestry minister Lord Goldsmith reiterated that promise - and also pledged to increase the use of wood.

There are strong economic and environmental reasons behind this - enhanced tree planting and greater wood use can help deliver the UK Government’s short-term imperative (a Green Recovery from Covid-19), medium-term goal (Build Back Better) and long-term aim (Net-Zero by 2050).

This is because the UK’s forestry and wood processing sector is a rare beast; the greater the economic activity, the greater the environmental benefit.

It employs more than 50,000 people across the UK and adds at least £2 billion in annual economic value - and at the same time, helps fight both the climate and nature emergencies.

Last month (July), Confor produced a new report arguing that modern forests planted for wood production can deliver significant biodiversity benefits. Read it here.

Furthermore, growing trees soak up carbon from the atmosphere and that is then stored in wood products, while new trees are grown to replace those harvested. In a double carbon whammy, using wood in place of other materials like steel, concrete and plastic cuts carbon emissions further.

This positive carbon story of using more wood in construction is the central message of the Wood CO2ts less campaign, launched by the UK timber industry earlier this summer. It highlights that using wood in construction is a cost-free solution to carbon capture – reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.

Confor, as the voice of the UK forestry and wood processing sector, is proud to be a leading part of this campaign.

Every year, the wood in UK forests captures around 21 million tonnes of CO2, and those forests are expanding, though not quickly enough.

While Lord Goldsmith’s determination to hit the Government’s planting target is clear, he has a big tree to climb – currently new planting is less than half the target and only Scotland has been able to meet its commitment.

Lessons can be learnt from Scotland’s experience – the Government has a joined-up policy which links greater use of wood and a supportive grant and regulatory environment for planting trees.

In England, as the Government consults on a new Tree Strategy, it has the opportunity to take the Scottish experience and make a step-change towards achieving its green recovery, housing and climate change goals.

If Lord Goldsmith sees the wood and the trees, perhaps we can hit the tough planting target after all.

Across the UK, we need to plant all kinds of trees, including large-scale forests which provide renewable supplies of wood. These will be created using modern standards for sustainability that have been developed by Government working with industry, environmental bodies and access groups.

While delivering for carbon, they will also help prevent flooding and provide places for people and wildlife.

The harvested trees will be replaced and the stored carbon in the wood can build high-quality homes.

Sourcing from sustainably managed forests underpins the call to use more wood. WWF has estimated that global demand for wood could triple by 2050. It’s vital that we protect fragile forests overseas.

It is a stark fact that the UK imports 80 per cent of the timber it uses to make wood products – second only to China as a global net importer.

By expanding our forests we can take more responsibility for our environmental footprint, but we should also ensure that our imports come from responsibly managed forests given that we will never produce all the wood that we consume.

Tree planting has come right up the policy agenda, from the ‘bidding war’ in the 2019 election to repeated Committee on Climate Change reports that stress the role of trees and wood in achieving net zero.

Lord Goldsmith called for a “colossal endeavour” to hit the tree planting targets at a webinar organised by Confor in July. As one of the greenest of Conservatives, Lord Goldsmith seems to understand the environmental and economic imperatives to plant more trees and use more wood.

We know that planting more trees can deliver for the climate emergency and the nature emergency. Using more wood CO2ts less.

And if Lord Goldsmith sees the wood and the trees, perhaps we can hit the tough planting target after all.

Confor: promoting forestry and wood, represents 1500 businesses, along the whole UK forestry  and wood supply chain

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