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Woodland Trust chief delivers stark warning as charity publishes emergency tree plan for the UK

Woodland Trust

5 min read Partner content

The Woodland Trust today publishes its Emergency Tree Plan – the first of its kind and a challenge to governments. It sets out how the UK can rapidly increase tree cover to help reach net zero carbon emissions and tackle the declines in wildlife.

Key points include:

  • Design and fund an approach to woodland creation that addresses both the climate and nature crises together
  • Annual rates of woodland creation need to be more than doubled, starting in 2020
  • New targets for quality of woodland creation as well as quantity
  • New grants should be provided for natural regeneration of trees
  • An emergency increase in resources is required to help national and local government deliver on Government tree pledges across the UK

Dr Darren Moorcroft, CEO, Woodland Trust said:

“As the Chief Executive of the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity I’m acutely aware that we start 2020 with more woods under threat from destruction than any other time in history. Tree planting rates are the lowest in decades, and 1 in 10 wildlife and plant species is under threat from extinction. Disease and pests have taken hold and risk to wipe out millions of our native trees. Never has the picture appeared bleaker.

“We’ve seen a lot of talk about trees and that is welcome but we’ve yet to see the action that is required. We’ve left ourselves a phenomenal amount to do in a very short space of time. The moment of crisis has come and action needs to be taken this year.

“Today we launch our Emergency Tree Plan, which outlines what needs to be done to increase our tree cover to help tackle the climate and nature emergencies and to help the UK reach its targets for net zero carbon emissions. Government needs bold policies and local authorities and landowners need the support to act swiftly and of a scale to expand tree cover across the UK. I can’t stress enough that we can’t be here, in the same position next year for all our sakes.

“We at the Woodland Trust have a crucial role to play and so does everyone.”

The report, titled “Emergency Tree Plan for the UK” follows a General Election in which we saw major tree planting pledges from every political party. Now we urgently need to translate political ambitions for trees into action that delivers for wildlife, climate and people.

To increase tree cover the UK needs to pursue a mix of approaches, at a variety of scales appropriate to the landscape. These must include expanding native woodland, sustainable commercial plantations, agroforestry, urban trees, hedges and individual countryside trees.

The UK is one of the least wooded countries in Europe with just 13% tree cover compared to the European average of 37%. And only 7% of this is native woodland. In order to reach the target of 17-19% tree cover recommended by the Independent Climate Change Committee, trees will need to be planted on an unprecedented scale, but the right trees in the right places are needed.

The Government’s own research shows that 84% people think wildlife should be a priority in terms of woodland creation and most people are in favour of the Government increasing tree planting.*

Moorcroft continues:

“Previous Governments have tried to dramatically increase tree planting rates before. In doing so, some of our finest wildlife sites were damaged. We can’t afford to make the wrong decisions about how and where we expand tree cover. We don’t have time. And future generations are demanding urgent action for our wildlife and climate. We hope the Emergency Tree Plan will challenge Government to move forward at the scale and pace we need. We look forward to playing our part along with many other partners.

The Trust is also launching a new campaign calling on the government in each UK country to adopt ambitious policies and plans for expanding tree cover and to provide the resources to do this.

The report’s key recommendations are:

Look after the trees we have:

  • Protect and restore existing trees and native woodland (More ancient woods under threat (1000+) than ever before in the Trust’s history). Ancient woodlands are huge carbon sinks. In total UK forests hold up to 4 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent;
  • Invest in UK tree nurseries now to enable a rapid expansion of UK-grown trees to reduce disease risk of importing trees (at least 30 new damaging tree pests and diseases have arrived into the country through imported stock, threatening millions of native trees; the UK Government’s own Risk Register identify 127 high risk plant pests and diseases that need to be prevented from entering the UK.)
  • Prevent tree pests and disease, improve biosecurity at the border. (UK faces the loss of approx. 150 million mature trees and 2 billion saplings and seedlings to ash dieback in the next 10-20 years).

New policies, capacity and funding for woods and trees:

  • Set new country annual enforceable targets on a path to reach 19% UK woodland cover by 2050;
  • Combine quantity and quality targets for new tree cover to ensure it stores carbon, supports the recovery of wildlife and benefits people;
  • Deliver an emergency increase in capacity in tree and woodland teams at all levels of national and local government;
  • Target public money investment in new tree cover to maximise public goods like wildlife;
  • Public forest estates and other public land must lead the way in showing how to integrate climate action with nature recovery;
  • Combine forestry and woodland strategies alongside agriculture in an overall land-use strategy that enables new land for trees as a priority;
  • Provide landowners with financial support for the natural regeneration of woodland

Local authorities need to take the following steps:

  • Ensure development land includes a minimum of 30% tree canopy cover;
  • Commission and deliver their own emergency tree plan to identify land for trees, and set annual expansion targets whilst protecting existing native woodland and trees; and
  • Protect trees outside of woods and avoid removal of any tree unless for health and safety reasons. In such instance implement a minimum replacement planting ratio of 1:3 with new trees located as close to the original location as possible and the same type of planting. (Over 150,000 street trees have been lost in the past 10 years across the UK)