Twenty-two million trees were planted in Scotland last year as part of a push to tackle the “global climate emergency“, official figures show. However, England is falling significantly short of its targets.
A total of 11,200 hectares were covered Scotland – well exceeding the current annual target of 10,000, according to government statistics.
But in England just 1,420 hectares of woodland was planted, despite a target of 5,000 being set, figures from the Forestry Commission suggest. This means they missed their annual target by seven million.
While the overall figures for the UK in the year to 31 March are up, that success is down to large increases in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Woodland Trust said.
The percentage of woodland cover in the UK remains at 13 per cent, with 10 per cent in England, 15 per cent in Wales, 19 per cent in Scotland and eight per cent in Northern Ireland.
The number of trees planted in Scotland now represents 84 per cent of the UK total. Increasing the number of trees being planted is part of the country’s efforts to tackle climate change, with a target of 15,000 hectares a year set to be in place from 2024-25.
After the latest figures were released, Abi Bunker, from the Woodland Trust, said: “The UK needs renewed ambition when it comes to tree planting and woodland expansion. The scale of what needs to be achieved to reach net zero targets is obvious; it will necessitate a three-fold increase on current levels.
“Let’s not shy away from the truth. It will be a challenge, it will cost money, it will mean tough choices, but the human race is at a crossroads for our environmental future. To avoid climate breakdown we have to act, that’s the reality we live in, tough choices, big challenge, but we can all rise to meet it head on.”
Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing hailed the success of the scheme.
“This is fantastic news that we’ve smashed the targets,” he said. “It is testament to the Scottish Government making forestry a priority and investing and helping growing the industry. The whole tree planting effort has truly been a national endeavour with all forestry interests, both large and small, pulling together.
“With an increase in tree planting in the pipeline, it is now more important than ever to make sure the right trees are planted in the right places.”
He added that tree planting was increasingly important in the fight against climate change, with around 9.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere by Scottish forests.
Carol Evans, of Woodland Trust Scotland, said the country is “ahead of the curve” on tree planting when compared to the rest of the UK.
“The urgency for action on climate change is starting to hit home. At the same time the role trees can play in soaking up carbon is also becoming more generally recognised. Scotland has been ahead of the curve on this compared to the rest of the UK and we are absolutely delighted that the planting targets have finally been met.
“We need to keep this momentum going. We need to both expand the area of Scotland’s woods and significantly improve the condition of the forest habitats we already have.”
Environment secretary Michael Gove promised a national tree-planting campaign with a £50m pledge for 10 million new rural trees and £10m for 130,000 urban trees.
Meanwhile, Theresa May this week announced a legally binding target to end the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050.
The Government laid out legislation in Parliament to set a new target to cut emissions to “net zero” by the middle of the century. The statutory instrument will amend the existing goal to cut climate pollution by 80 per cent by 2050, which was agreed by MPs under the Climate Change Act in 2008.
Additional reporting by Press Association