The government’s target to plant 7,500 hectares a year by 2025 is unrealistic and looks set to fall well short of what it set out to achieve, according to a new report.
The National Audit Office (NAO) says Defra has worked fast in difficult circumstances but will need to overcome significant challenges if it is to increase tree-planting to the levels required for the government’s Net Zero strategy.
Challenges to be managed
The report sets out some of the challenges that Defra and its partners will need to manage if they are to achieve the programme’s tree-planting target.
- Private landowners being discouraged from planting trees due to uncertainty about future government funding.
- The need to secure stronger support from other government departments so that they plant more trees on the land they manage.
- Risks to the availability of seeds and saplings due to tree nurseries either closing or reducing production levels.
- A shortfall in the staff needed to deliver the programme, including sufficient experts such as qualified foresters.
The NAO also says there are few details about the government’s longer-term approach to tree-planting including areas such as increasing the supply of seeds and saplings and increasing the capacity of the forestry sector.
The report recommends that Defra and the Forestry Commission should urgently establish what is required for the transition of tree-planting into ELM as well as ensuring that the monitoring and evaluation framework they are developing for the tree planting programme will be able to robustly measure progress against all its targets.
Working for all farmers
NFU Deputy President Tom Bradshaw said: "Farmers understand the importance of managing existing woodlands and creating new woodland which offers obvious benefits to the environment, particularly contributing to British farming’s net zero ambition.
"Tree planting must be carefully considered with the right policies and funding incentives to ensure that it can work for all farmers, including tenants, alongside productive farming.
"Planting trees forms a key part of the NFU’s net zero plan and farmers recognise their role in helping to deliver it. Thousands of trees have been planted in the past year alone and many more will be planted on farms in the coming months to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee."
Smart in our approach
"It is important we are smart in our approach to tree planting as we cannot end up in a situation where we are losing productive and versatile farmland and reducing sustainable domestic food production, only to increase our reliance on food imports from countries with lower environmental credentials.
"As it says in the NFU’s Tree Strategy, the key thing is to ensure that the right tree is planted in the right place, whether it’s the creation of woodland or just one tree, and that we maintain our ability to continue producing sustainable, climate-friendly food."