Tree planting in England is still far below the level needed to tackle the climate crisis, campaigners have warned.
England planted just 763 hectares of new forest from April to September of this year, official data shows, which is the equivalent of some 1.3 million trees.
This is only about 70 per cent of the area planted in England in the first half of 2019, according to a government report.
Around 5,000 hectares of new forest will need to be planted across England every year from 2020 to 2025 in order for the UK to meet its climate targets, according to the government’s independent climate advisers.
And this figure will need to rise to 10,000 hectares after 2025, said the Committee on Climate Change (CCC).
In his 10-point climate plan outlined on Tuesday evening, Boris Johnson said that he aimed to plant 30,000 hectares of new forest a year across the whole of the UK by 2050.
However, the new figures for England suggest that the government is still a long way from meeting that goal, campaigners said.
“In our climate emergency and nature crisis this is a tragically inadequate figure,” Green party peer Natalie Bennett told The Independent.
“Once again in environmental policy we see government action is no way matching up to government promises.
“Instead of rhetorical hot air from the government we need to see shovels in the earth and protective fencing on the landscape.”
Though no “silver bullet” for the climate crisis, tree planting is one way in which the UK can make strides towards meeting its goal reducing emissions to net-zero by 2050, scientists say.
This is because, as trees grow, they absorb CO2 from the atmosphere during photosynthesis and then use it to build new leaves, roots and shoots.
In the UK, most tree-planting has taken place in Scotland in recent years. In 2019, around 11,000 hectares of new forest were planted in Scotland, while only around 1,400 hectares were planted in England, according to official data.
However, the level of tree-planting across the whole of the UK in recent years is still not enough to be in line with the UK’s goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, says the CCC.
From June to September of this year, the government held a consultation for its upcoming “England Tree Strategy”, which will soon set out how many trees should be planted across England over the coming decades.
Emi Murphy, trees campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told The Independent: “Tree cover needs to be doubled as part of the fight against climate breakdown and would also enable more people to access nature in their local area.
“National Tree Week is fast approaching, and we’re calling on forestry minister Zac Goldsmith to mark it by committing to an ambitious target in the England Tree Strategy to boost tree cover.”
Restoring and protecting forests will be a key area for the UK show leadership during the upcoming UN climate talks, known as Cop26, which are to be held in Glasgow next year, added Katie White, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF.
She told The Independent: “This shows how far we still have to go to meet our ambitious and crucial climate targets, in England and the rest of the UK. Nature is not just a nice to have – it is our life support system, and key to tackling the climate crisis. If we are to show true leadership at the climate summit next year we must up our game.”
The new report does not say whether the Covid-19 pandemic played a role in the decline in tree planting in England from 2019 to 2020.
A UK government spokesperson said: “Tree planting remains at the heart of our ambitious environmental programme which is why we have committed to increase tree planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025.
“We have already consulted on our England Tree Strategy and announced a £640m Nature for Climate Fund – which will be vital tools in ensuring we work closely with communities and landowners to accelerate tree planting and meet this ambitious target.”