The UK Government has set a UK wide target to create 30,000 hectares of new woodland every year by 2025 and committed to treble the amount of woodland created in England in this Parliament. These efforts are key to the UK’s net zero, biodiversity and nature recovery objectives. This inquiry has examined whether the Government has the plans, systems and tools in place to achieve its ambitions. Our key findings are:
- We welcome the Government’s ambition on woodland creation. However, it will be a steep climb for England to treble its planting rates in the next two years. The Government needs to set annual targets for England’s contribution to the UK target to provide certainty to the sector.
- New woodland creation must deliver the principle of planting the ‘right tree in the right place’. This can only be delivered if proper mapping data is available to inform planting decisions. By May 2022, Defra, the Forestry Commission and Natural England must set out a plan to complete their data mapping.
- The interim English Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) provides better incentives than previously existed. However, there is a lack of clarity about what long term funding for planting and maintaining woodland will be available under the new Environmental Land Management (ELM) schemes. Defra and the Forestry Commission must set out how EWCO and ELM will fit together and consult on whether the incentives will support an economically viable business model for woodland management.
- It is not clear whether the Government has allocated enough funding to support tree-planting and woodland management. By September 2022, Defra and HM Treasury must set out what level of planting can be achieved with the current funding levels and create a plan to bridge the gap that exists between this and its planting ambition.
- Increasing the amount of domestic timber the UK uses is essential for the long-term economic viability of woodlands, whilst also storing carbon and reducing our reliance on imported wood. Defra needs to produce a clear, economically focussed action plan which will double the amount of domestically produced timber the UK consumes and provide guidance on what trees the sector should grow to meet domestic demand.
- Defra must work together with the Forestry Commission, Natural England and the nursery sector to support UK tree nurseries to expand production to enable it to supply the number of trees needed to meet the Government’s planting ambition. While imports can make up any shortfall in the short term, it also risks pests and diseases being introduced. Defra and the Animal & Plant Health Agency should review import controls on trees entering the country to minimise this risk.
- Defra and the Forestry Commission must address the shortfall of skilled workers, particularly in woodland creation roles. Defra should commit to bringing at least an extra three hundred new people into woodland creation roles by 2025. Defra should create a dedicated taskforce with membership from the Department for Education, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Forestry Commission and training providers, including land based agricultural colleges, to agree and deliver a clear plan to meet this target.