Experts are recommending that tree establishment be prioritized over tree planting in government targets.
According to critics, the government’s focus on planting trees rather than ensuring their survival could result in billions of taxpayer dollars being wasted. They are concerned that neglect and inadequate care may be causing saplings to die.
According to experts, the current system allows for the possibility of planting many trees without proper monitoring or care. These trees would still be counted towards targets, even if they died before reaching maturity. This poses a threat to the UK’s net zero strategy and biodiversity targets, as they heavily rely on a significant increase in woodland for carbon sequestration.
At the autumn conference of the Royal Horticultural Society, Tony Kirkham, who previously managed the arboretum at Kew Gardens, stated that the focus should be on establishing trees rather than just planting them. He argued that setting targets for the number of trees planted is not as important as ensuring their survival in the long run. Simply planting a million trees does not address the issue at hand, which is the longevity of these trees.
Scientists have cautioned that the government’s plan to increase tree cover in England by 34,000 hectares and tree canopy and woodland cover from 14.5% to 16.5% by 2050 may not be achieved if a significant number of young trees do not survive. The target was set in the environmental improvement plan released earlier this year, with a deadline of 31 January 2028.
In their 2019 manifesto, there was a promise to plant 30,000 hectares of trees annually throughout the UK by 2025.
Sara Loom, CEO of the Tree Council, stated that there is insufficient information available regarding the survival of trees and the existing data is inconsistent. Additionally, there are significant economic challenges associated with establishing new trees. The government’s objective is to plant 30,000 hectares of trees annually for the next 30 years, totaling 900,000 hectares and one billion trees at a density of 1,000 trees per hectare. If each tree costs £11 to plant and maintain, the overall budget would be £11 billion. Even a small increase of 5%, 10%, or 15% in tree survival rates would have a significant impact, as demonstrated by simple calculations.
Experts are concerned that trees planted to fulfill government goals may not reach full maturity due to a lack of trained individuals regularly watering them.
Kirkham stated that it is likely that a significant number of the trees we plant will not reach full maturity. Therefore, it is important to first determine a budget for aftercare before beginning the tree planting process. Often, trees are planted but not properly maintained by subsequent contractors, leading to their death. This is a simple concept – typically, a tree dies due to lack of water.
A representative from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that tree planting rates have reached their peak in the past ten years. However, there is still more work to be done and the department will collaborate with partners to further increase the country’s tree cover. They have made significant investments in woodland management, offering various grants to support landowners and managers in establishing new trees. These grants often require recipients to provide proof of tree survival.