A core part of our mission at Sustainabox is working towards regrowing and replenishing UK Woodland, creating balanced and thriving ecosystems. Unfortunately in the UK a mere 13% of our land is covered by trees compared to an EU average of 37%. Biodiversity is also plummeting. A recent study showed a fall in 41% of our native wildlife populations since 1970. Boris Johnson has made a lot of noise about rectifying this as a core aim of his ‘green revolution’. Under the Conservatives initiative- Nature for Climate fund- the government aims to treble the rate at which we plant trees, with the ambitious target of 30 million trees every year by the end of the next parliament in 2025. Its estimated that the project will cost £15 billion over the next three decades, with the majority of the money going to landowners and farmers.
Whilst the government’s proposal is laudable, it has to be more than just spin. The evidence would suggest that as of yet they are not fulfilling their commitments and are falling far short of what is necessary to replenish our forests. Only 1,420 hectares of trees were planted in England in the year to March 2019, against the government’s target of 5,000 hectares for this period. The total tree cover of the UK is unchanged at 10% in England, 15% in Wales, 19% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland. The environmental campaigning group Friends of the Earth has been pointing out the governments failings since the initiative begun. They’ve shown that despite government commitments that tree planting would be a key fixture of their overall plan to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, we as a country are spending less than £2 per person on forestry which isn’t enough to scratch the surface of the problem.
Not only is the government failing to keep to their commitments there are also concerns about government strategy when it comes to actually planting the trees. Tree planting on mass is a complex process and it is essential that new forests are created in the right spaces where they won’t negatively impact existing habitats or inadvertently release emissions. Experts from environmental groups have claimed that the proposed commercial forests the government is planning on growing will have little impact on the UK’s ability to retain carbon. Trees planted in the wrong location can in fact increase emissions, for example planting trees on peatland can cause the peat to dry out and actually release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Various environmental groups have also expressed their concerns that local birds and wildlife could be at risk if the government creates plantations recklessly without the proper strategy.
Whilst Boris may be making all the right noises, perhaps hoping that pledges to usher in a new ‘green revolution’ may distract us from his own disastrous handling of the ongoing pandemic, it is clear that there is a divergence between what he says and what he does. If we are to have any hope of replenishing UK woodland in a significant way we need less bluster and more action.