WHO else saw Forestry Facts and Figures 2021 and got the fright of their lives over the appalling figures for new tree planting? Apparently the Woodland Trust has. It told the national press how the UK would fail to meet its net zero carbon emissions target if millions more trees were not planted by 2050. 

That will require considerably more planting than took place in the year up to March 2021. New plantings across the UK actually fell compared with the previous two years – 13.54, 13.66 and 13.29 thousand hectares (ha) in the years ending 31/03/19, 31/03/20 and 31/03/21. 

Scotland, the front runner in new tree planting, showed the biggest numerical fall – 11.05 to 10.66 thousand ha from year ending 31/03/20 to year ending 31/03/21, while England recorded the biggest percentage drop over the same period; 2.34 to 2.06 thousand ha or 12 per cent. 

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Wales recorded an increase (0.08 to 0.29 thousand ha) but with only 80 ha planted in the year ending 31/03/20 there was really nowhere else to go. That's clearly an own goal for National Resources Wales, given that 80 ha is at the upper end of the FIFA-approved size for a football pitch. New tree planting in Northern Ireland was also up from 0.20 to 0.28 thousand ha, which in real numbers is also an 80 ha increase.

These highly disappointing figures led Dr Darren Moorcroft, chief executive of the Woodland Trust to say: “The UK has created less than 300,000 ha of new woodland in the last 20 years. Over the next 20 years, we need three times that amount – and 1.44 m hectares (ha) of new woodland by 2050. It's an uphill task and the pace needs to pick up, but together it can be done.”

Nice one ‘Daz’, but hang on a sec while I get my slide rule out. 1.44 m hectares of new woodland is the equivalent of covering the entire land area of Yorkshire (1.09 m ha) and Lancashire (0.31 m ha) with trees, including the turf at Old Trafford, Anfield and Elland Road. However, if the UK government is worried about upsetting voters in the so-called Red-Wall seats of Northern England, you could always cover the entire land area of Wales (2.06 m ha) instead and actually get more bang for your buck and leeway, should significant numbers of planted trees fail to establish due to pests and diseases.

Forestry Journal: Dr Darren Moorcroft Dr Darren Moorcroft

Throwing around these big numbers for new tree planting and woodland cover is all very well, but the UK government and devolved administrations have pledged to maintain our current 60 per cent self-sufficiency in food production. But can they? By 2035, with net zero carbon emissions on the near horizon, Scottish beef farmers and Welsh sheep farmers will face the full force of ‘zero quota, zero tariff’ meat imports from Australia and New Zealand recently signed off in ‘free’ trade agreements. They will almost certainly be left high and dry and trussed up like Christmas turkeys. And guess who negotiated these agreements with Australia and Zealand on behalf of the UK Government.

Think about all that carbon dioxide belched out by container ships transporting hundreds of thousands of tonnes of meat from up to 20,000 km away and kept deep frozen by dry ice. And what exactly is dry ice? That's right – frozen carbon dioxide. You couldn’t make it up if you tried.

When we think of deforestation, countries like Brazil and Indonesia spring to mind, but Australia is up there with the worst offenders, according to WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Australia. The Australian state with highest rate of land clearance is Queensland where in 2015–16 almost 400,000 ha (equivalent to 1,000 rugby pitches a day) was cleared of native vegetation.

If Forestry Facts and Figures 2021 didn't worry you, try the Australian Beef & Deforestation Corporate Scorecard published in 2019 by the Wilderness Society. It reveals lots of frightening facts and figures, including a 2019 analysis which found 73 per cent of all deforestation and land clearing in Queensland State is linked to beef production.