AN update on the government’s Carbon Budget Delivery Plan published in March included a table (on page 170) suggesting the area of new, UK-wide woodland established annually between 2021 and 2025 will almost halve in size.

This is scary stuff considering the 13,300 hectares of new woodland planted in 2020/21 was nowhere near the 30,000 hectare/year target.

However, a non-partisan, fact-checking organisation called Full Fact has provided some much-needed relief by showing how the government can’t even present its own figures correctly.

Full Fact says the table (also published as part of a spreadsheet) includes a row of data on “yearly afforestation in the UK”. This states that 13,300 hectares of UK land were afforested (newly converted into woodland) in 2020/21, but subsequently projects how this will fall to 7,500 hectares per year by 2025, before rising to 8,900 hectares by 2030 and 10,300 by 2035.

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Frightening figures, but don’t despair because Full Fact shows how the report is misleading or mistaken depending on your level of generosity. Of course, the real irony is the UK government’s report suggesting its own tree-planting performance and ability to create new woodland is set to become even more dismal than it already is.

The figures are buried deep in the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan, and don’t appear to have been widely released or covered in the media, but nevertheless resulted in some confusion on social media, which led to the potential problem being brought to Full Fact’s attention.

Full Fact acknowledges that 13,300 ha does reflect the area afforested over the entire UK for 2020/21 but says subsequent figures given in the report for 2025, 2030 and 2035 refer only to projections for England. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero confirmed this to Full Fact and said it was because this was the only projected data available to the UK government. That may be so, but as Full Fact points out, this caveat was not made clear in the published data when it should have been.

Full Fact rightly says that “Government departments should present figures clearly and accurately, and take steps to ensure data does not mislead. Where figures are presented without the appropriate context or caveats, the government should quickly update or correct data to prevent a misleading impression from being given.” Full Fact says at the time of writing the table in question had not been updated.

The UK government can blow smoke and flash mirrors, but it won’t confuse me on one point at least – that there’s no longer a cat in hell’s chance of achieving these afforestation targets. Moreover and as far as England is concerned, I suspect that the 2,000 or so hectares of new plantings reported in recent years has already been wiped out by deforestation, including that caused by inclement weather, clearing conifers to re-create open habitat, collateral damage from HS2 construction and National Rail reducing railway embankments to tree-less wastes.

Failure to get anywhere near the targets set for England is not necessarily due to incompetence but because deep down, and despite the huff, puff and guff, tree planting is slipping down the priority list of this UK government, which is fast losing interest despite the continuing rhetoric.

The only groups of people who still think we are on target for new tree planting are the blind optimists, the gullible and the most slavish government bag carriers, and I am not a paid-up member of any.