The Tree Council welcomes the latest report published on 2 May by the Committee on Climate Change: ‘Net Zero: The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming’.
In the report, government scientists call for a significant increase in the numbers of trees to be planted in the UK over the next 30 years as part of a proposed UK target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The report states that planting trees (afforestation) can quickly and effectively capture carbon and help to offset the UK’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This, the report suggests, should be a key aspect of our approach to land use and agriculture. In addition to growing more trees, the report recommends that carbon can be sequestered through the use of timber as a building material and also as a carbon-neutral source of biofuel. These proposals are welcome and timely, especially considering the negative impact of ash dieback disease on our current and future UK treescape.
To achieve the new targets laid out in the report, the CCC is calling for around 30,000 hectares of trees to be planted each year and recommends increasing UK woodland cover from the current 13% of land area to 17%, as well as increasing active woodland management. Land for tree planting would come from changing agricultural practices. Increased planting in towns and cities will also be a priority.
Establishing up to three billion new trees (final figures to be confirmed) will require a creative combination of encouraging natural regeneration and planting new broadleaf woodlands, coniferous plantations, hedges, and urban trees. It will mean large numbers growing from seed as well as speeding up the rate at which we plant trees, so that the impact on carbon sequestration will increase as the younger trees mature. At 30,000 hectares per year, the carbon sequestered, or stored, would increase by around 5 million tonnes of CO2 in a decade.
The report points out that afforestation is falling short of current targets and that a dramatic increase in tree planting is needed. Previous proposals to plant 20,000 hectares/year across the UK nations are not being delivered, with less than 10,000 hectares/year planted on average over the last five years.
The Tree Council agrees that more ambitious tree planting targets are essential to sequester carbon dioxide and improve ecosystems. The next step is to develop a realistic plan for planting up to three billion new trees, and all stakeholders - including landowners, farmers, government, charities, businesses and communities - must commit to making tree and hedge establishment and planting a priority. It’s vital that this includes ongoing tree care as well as tree planting.
Reaching this ambitious target will be easier if organisations and communities work together. This July, The Tree Council is convening key partners in the sector for the first in a series of discussions on the future of tree planting in the UK. The results of this debate will feed into the wider discussion on tree planting for climate change.
In addition to trees, we welcome the specific focus on 40% more hedges as an effective way to sequester carbon and improve local air quality conditions, another environmental co-benefit. However, we must ensure that improving the ecological value of existing hedgerows is highlighted too, as this stock is often undervalued and under managed, and could be more ecologically valuable if better maintained.
Planting, encouraging and caring for trees needs to become a way of life for each and every one of us. If each of the 66 million people in the UK helped establish and care for one or two trees per year until 2050, when combined with the other measures in the report, this would help achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Collectively, with great determination, we can enhance our British treescape, leaving a healthier and more beautiful environment for generations to come.