On 11th June, the Forestry Commission gave us our annual insight into tree planting volumes across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for the 12 months from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020. As always, these provided an important reminder as to just how much more woodland creation we need to be doing to safeguard our claims of environmental responsibility.
In January 2020, the Committee for Climate Change released its authoritative and detailed report on “Land use: Policies for a net zero UK.” This recommended that forestry and woodlands should cover “at least 17%” of the UK’s land area by 2050, against 13.2% in March 2020 (according to the Forestry Commission’s data).
In effect, this means woodland and forestry cover needs to rise from 3.21mn hectares in 2020 (13.2% of the UK’s 24.29mn hectares), up to 4.13mn hectares by 2050, or an additional 920,000 hectares. This equates to approximately 30,000 hectares of additional forestry and woodland planting each year for the next 30 years.
The government appears to acknowledge implicitly the Committee on Climate Change’s recommendations. Its manifesto commits it to planting 30,000 hectares of new woodland from 2025 onwards. However, as this year’s woodland creation data reveals, large changes are needed to achieve these targets.
In 2019/20, just 13,460 hectares of new woodlands were planted across the UK i.e. just 45% of the 2025 target. Moreover, Scotland achieved 72% of its target (10,860 hectares vs 15,000 targeted) so the shortfall elsewhere was even more stark.
In England, where the government aims to plant 10,000 hectares annually from 2025, just 2,300 hectares of woodland were created. The shortfall in Wales was even more dramatic with just 80 hectares planted in 2019/20 against 2025 targets for 2,500. There is a lot still to do
Fortunately, steady progress is afoot in a vital area that will help stimulate greater areas of woodland creation. The Woodland Carbon Code, by measuring the volume of carbon dioxide sequestered by an area of woodland over a specific period and enabling woodland owners to sell these woodland-generated carbon units, provides woodland schemes with an additional and valuable source of income.
The Woodland Carbon Code was established in 2011. In 2011/12, woodland schemes with the capacity to sequester just 350,000 tons of carbon dioxide were “validated” under the scheme. Since then, that volume has multiplied almost 10-fold, reaching 3.48mn tons in 2019/20.
This is a highly encouraging development. However, here again, we must remain vigilant. The growing popularity of the Woodland Carbon Code and the rising demand for woodland-generated carbon units means waiting times for projects to get validated are stretching out beyond 6 months.
The problem lies in a lack of resources to cope with the growing demands. This is just one small, but important, example of the challenges facing a new, significant and fast-growing market. The Woodland Carbon Code should be pushing their independent auditors to deliver the necessary resources to match demand.