BORIS Johnson has been told to step in and take personal responsibility over the UK's continued failure to hit its tree planting targets. 

The Prime Minister pledged to plant 30,000 hectares of new woodland every year by 2024 - but official statistics released last month show less than 14,000 ha were planted in the year to March 31, 2022.

Industry leaders said there was "zero chance" of fulfilling the pledge and demanded Mr Johnson take control of the issue and ensure his environment team limit the damage in the time remaining of this parliament.

READ MORE: Forest Research woodland statistics: UK misses annual tree-planting targets again

"This is a total policy failure in both economic and environmental terms," said Stuart Goodall, chief executive of forestry and wood trade body Confor. "Report after report has shown that increased tree planting and wood use is vital to meeting the UK's net-zero targets - yet this is not being translated into trees in the ground.

"This is especially true of productive forests, which produce wood alongside benefits for carbon, nature and the economy. The Government knows more wood is needed to build low-carbon homes and it knows the UK faces a shortfall in future domestic wood supply, yet it is seeking to keep a tight lid on the planting of productive forests. 

“Environmental groups know we need to grow more wood in the UK rather than increasing the pressure on fragile global forests, but the Government - against all the evidence - is not taking decisive action.”

Stuart added: “If Defra isn't able to deliver the Government’s own manifesto commitments, then it’s time the Prime Minister stepped in to ensure they do." 

Scotland came out on top of the country's four nations, creating 10,480 ha of new woodlands or around 80 per cent of its own annual target. However, the yearly figure had fallen on both 2020 and 2021, with the disruptive effect of the planting season's winter storms cited as one of the reasons for this. 

According to the Forest Research document, England created 2,260 ha of new woodland, Wales 580 ha and Northern Ireland 540 ha. All three totals were up on 2021's figures. 

"We need a joined-up policy and we simply don't have it," Stuart said. "The UK Government wants to Level Up and tackle climate change, but it ignores taking the actions that would deliver on all these agendas.

"It commits to protecting fragile global forests at COP26 while also presiding over a decline in domestic wood supply which will simply put more pressure on those very fragile forests. 

"There is currently zero chance of meeting planting targets unless we see decisive and immediate change." 

Forestry Journal has contacted DEFRA for comment on the latest report but Mr Eustice said earlier this year: "We have stretching and ambitious targets when it comes to tree planting, and just last year we launched the England Trees Action Plan.

"We are committed to planting 30,000 hectares of new woodland every year in the UK by the end of this Parliament, backed up by over £500m of funding."