THE government is reluctant to set clear targets for the different types of woodland needed for the growing demands on UK forests ahead of net zero, MPs have been told.

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) this month published the government’s response to its report examining the sustainability of timber production. Within the report, a cross-party group of MPs expressed concern that the tree-planting target for the UK was significantly off track, and that the private sector has no clear path for how it can best contribute to sustainable woodland creation.


As a result of the number of different policies and schemes, EAC recommended that the government’s overall tree-planting targets be divided into clear sub-categories for the types of woodland needed; be that native broadleaves that offer ideal habitats for nature, or conifers to supply softwood for timber use. Ministers consider that this would restrict the ability to be flexible to future policy priorities for woodland.

The government also rejected the EAC’s recommendation for a target to be set for the amount of timber to be produced domestically, which could have again offered greater clarity to the private sector over their own tree planting efforts.

Philip Dunne, EAC chair, said: “With the deadline to meet net zero around the corner and a nature crisis upon us, it is clear there are competing demands on our precious woodland. The Government needs to balance nature and habitat protection, carbon sequestration, using more timber in construction which will be more in demand following last week’s publication of the Government’s ‘Timber in construction roadmap’, and potentially increasing the use of wood pellets for energy generation.

“The Government’s response to the committee’s report does not address these competing demands with the urgency and focus the Committee has demanded." 

However, EAC MPs were pleased to learn of the investment to Forestry England’s seed and sapling facilities for restocking felled trees, and of the government’s commitment to encouraging the use of a greater amount of domestically grown hardwoods to be used in construction.

Mr Dunne added: “Many of the Committee’s concerns in its report published in July 2023 centred upon the disappointing progress made to date in meeting the Government’s tree planting targets. The Government response suggests implementation will be assessed in 2028 to see whether it is on track to deliver its tree planting ambitions in England. Without sufficient planting now, the Government’s plans for the future expansion of woodland will be wasted.

Forestry Journal: Philip DunnePhilip Dunne (Image: Newsquest)

“Overarching targets and ongoing engagement are useful: but the time for clear and decisive policy action is now.”

In the written response to the EAC, ministers said: "The Government agrees that the forestry and timber sectors will be crucial nature-based solutions as we work towards Net Zero and reverse the decline in biodiversity. 

"That is why the Government has already acted or is planning action to address many of the recommendations and the wider points raised. The Government’s England Trees Action Plan (ETAP) sets out our vision for a thriving forest economy which contributes to the local economy of rural communities whilst also meeting our national objectives on climate and nature. Trees provide timber, recreational opportunities, and ecosystem services."