THE UK's tree-planting rates reached a modern-day high last year - defying industry predictions and early indications.  

Just over 21,000 hectares of new woodland were created across the country in the 12 months prior to the end of March 2024, understood to be first time that figure has breached the 20,000 ha mark in several decades. 

While still short of a manifesto pledge of 30,000 ha, it is a significant increase on the 12,000 ha of the previous planting season, which was the lowest total for half a decade. 

As usual, much of the progress was down to Scotland, which contributed a little over 15,000 ha of all woodland creation, but there was headway in England as it increased its planting total to 4,550. However, Northern Ireland's own tally dropped for the second year running, down to just 430 ha, while the Welsh rate halved from 1,190 ha to 640 ha. 

The figures (published while Forestry Journal is attending KWF Tagung in Germany) have been broadly celebrated by industry leaders, who have called on the next UK government to continue the progress and to reach the 30,000 ha recommended by the Climate Change Committee. 

Scotland's rural affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “This is quite a remarkable achievement and very positive news. There has been a tremendous amount of hard work to bring us these welcome figures.

“We need to give credit to all those who helped get the trees in the ground - this includes Scottish Forestry’s staff, woodland owners large and small, farmers, crofters, Forestry and Land Scotland, nurseries, forestry companies and their agents, and all those who actually did the planting."

Other notable findings in the annual statistics include: 

  • Broadleave planting remained ahead of conifers, accounting for 11,450 ha compared to 9,210 ha. Only Scotland planted more softwood species than hardwood. Wales planted just 10 ha of coniferous species. 
  • The majority of planting took place on private land across all four nations, with only 1,100 ha of woodland creation  being done on public land 
  • Around 16,000 ha of publicly-funded woodland restocking were reported in the UK in 2023/24.

North of the border, Confor’s chief executive Stuart Goodall welcomed the figures but said they were “bitter-sweet” given a recent swingeing budget cut for tree planting - and urged the Scottish Government to commit additional funding quickly to reflect the strong demand for woodland creation.

He said: “These new woodland creation figures are bitter-sweet. They are positive news for Scotland’s economy and environment and they highlight the very strong demand we have in Scotland to create new woodland, including a strong component of wood-producing forests.

“It is an impressive performance from the forestry sector, both private and public, and the sector as a whole should reflect on a job well done.

“That said, it comes after the Scottish Government has taken an axe to the grants available for woodland creation next year. Surely, having seen what can be achieved when the private and public sector work together towards a common goal, the Scottish Government has to respond and find the additional funds required to secure a similarly strong performance next year?”

Stuart Goodall welcomed the rise, but warned the Scottish budget cut could affect next year's total Stuart Goodall welcomed the rise, but warned the Scottish budget cut could affect next year's total

On the UK-wide figures, Stuart added: “Things are improving and we are starting to see an impact on planting from positive changes introduced in England.

"However, the new UK Government must commit to planting more wood-producing forests - with a focus on timber security in a world where demand for wood is growing fast. Doing this can deliver enormous environmental and economic benefits for the UK.”

Simon Hart, Head of Forestry in Scotland at John Clegg & Co, said: "It is clearly a step in the right direction. 

"“However, there is no escaping the fact that it is only two-thirds of the government target of 30,000 hectares of new planting each year. It is also interesting to note that while there has been an absolute increase in the area of conifers planted the biggest increase has been in the planting of broadleaves.

"This is fantastic news for nature conservation, but it is imperative that we do not lose focus on the importance of conifers, which are essential if we want to reduce our reliance on timber imports and take steps to decarbonise our economy." 

This is a developing story. FJ will have more coverage on its return from Germany.