UK tree planting targets – fascinating facts and figures
Current Woodland Cover
We have 3.2m hectares of woodland across the whole of the UK which is 13.2% of the total landmass (compared with the EU average of 38%). In 1998, which is 25 years ago, woodlands were 12% of the UK landmass, so there’s been very little increase in the last quarter of a century.
UK-wide tree planting commitments
The UK has committed to increasing tree cover from 13.2% to 17% of the landmass by 2050, which requires the planting of an additional 30,000 ha of trees per year, a total of 900,000 additional ha, taking us up to 4m ha in total. Having increased by only 1% in the last quarter of a century, the UK goal is now to increase by 4% in the next quarter of a century – that’s a lot of tree planting!
Breaking down the current woodland cover proportion of 13% across the UK, Scotland leads the way with 19%, followed by Wales at 15%, England 10%, and 9% in Northern Ireland.
Half of the current woodland area is native tree species, the other half is mainly non-native commercial conifer plantation.
England’s short term tree planting goals
The England Trees Action Plan published in 2021 set out some shorter term targets for England alone, aiming to reach at least 7,000ha/year of new planting by the end of the current parliament (2024). This compares with just 2300ha planted in 2019-20 and is the same area as was planted in the 4 years of 2016-20.
Latest tree planting statistics
Scotland maintained its rate of creating new woodlands in the 2021-22 year, with an additional 10,480 ha, slightly down on the previous year due to having to tackle widespread storm damage. Wales planted 580 ha of new woodland and Northern Ireland planted 540 ha. In England just 2,260 ha of new woodland were planted, falling well short of the target of at least 7,000 ha/year.
In total the UK planted 13,860 ha of new woodland, so still a long way off the target of 30,000 ha/year of new woodland that the UK is aiming for.
Update July 2022 – The Welsh Sustainable Farming Scheme has just announced an intention to plant an additional 43,000 ha by 2030.
The total planted area was 12,960 hectares, less than half the target and down from 13,860 in the previous year. The country by country results were
Scotland – the number of hectares planted was 8190, considerably down on the previous year which was 10,480 ha.
England – there was a slight increase in planting up to 3,130ha from the previous year which was 2,260 ha.
Wales – 1190 hectares of new woodland (just under 3,000 acres) was approved for planting, double the 580 hectares in the previous year. The Welsh government target is 2,000 hectares of new planting per annum but the Climate Change Committee says Wales should be planting 6,000 hectares of woodland per annum.
How many trees will be needed to achieve our goals.
An additional 30,000 hectares of trees pa requires UK growers (because there is a commitment that all of these extra trees ought to be grown as saplings in the UK) to increase production by 30m trees per year (assuming 1000 trees per hectare). In addition to planting trees to support the drive to net zero, there is also increasing public consciousness of the UK’s timber insecurity – we currently import 81% of all timber products used in the UK, at a cost of £11bn.