The largest conservation charity in the UK, The Woodland Trust, is putting pressure on the government to urgently increase tree-planting and safeguard ancient woodland, following a select committee report.

The report, Forestry in England: Seeing the Wood for the Trees, made a number of recommendations and criticised the government for failing to meet woodland-creation targets set by the Independent Panel on Forestry in 2012.

Forest and woodland currently cover just 10 per cent of England, one of the lowest levels in the European Union, where average woodland cover is 37 per cent.

The report found the average number of trees planted between 2010 and 2015 failed to reach 5,000 hectares a year – the amount needed to meet the target of 12 per cent coverage for 2060.

It said the Countryside Stewardship Scheme – a government grant to incentivise landowners to manage or create woodland on their land – had failed to encourage them to plant more trees, with only 700 hectares of woodland created between 2015 and 2016.

This report clearly highlights the barriers to progress that forestry in England faces,’ said Woodland Trust Chief Executive Beccy Speight. ‘Planting rates are shockingly low – we believe parts of the UK are at real risk of deforestation.

‘Grant systems are complex and restrictive, and protection for ancient woodland is weak.’

The trust also told the committee that ancient woodland was disappearing at a ‘frighteningly fast rate’ with a lot of ancient woodland now very fragmented and 380 ancient woodlands under threat in England alone.

It told the committee there were loopholes in the planning system that were being exploited, saying developers use that loophole to create infrastructure in ancient woodlands. It proposes that ancient woodland be classified in the same way as built heritage and called for an ancient woodland inventory in order to reliably measure the loss every year.

Words: Sid Hayns-Worthington


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