SCOTLAND continues to lead the way when it comes to tree-planting figures while the rest of the UK is falling short, according to the latest figures from Forest Research.

New woodland creation in the UK is flat at 13,500 ha annually – well below 50 per cent of the 30,000-ha target the UK Government has committed to hit by 2024–5.

Scotland planted 79 per cent of the new woodland in the year to March 31, 2021 (10,660 ha).

Màiri McAllan, Minister for Environment, Biodiversity and Land Reform, said that the tree planting activity across Scotland was positive progress by land managers both large and small.

She commented: “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.

“Future planting levels look very encouraging. Scottish Forestry has already issued approved contracts that will realise nearly 9,000 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. 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.”

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The combined area of new woodland generated by England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 13,410 ha. England planted 2,180 ha, Wales 290 and Northern Ireland 280. The UK total was slightly down on last year’s 13,460 ha.

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, according to Stuart Goodall, CEO of forest industry body Confor. 

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, 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.”

Mr Goodall said that figures from Wales were particularly disappointing. “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.”

He noted 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.

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“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.” 

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.”

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