Are we there yet, with tree planting in the UK?

By Heather Allen

The announcement last week of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund by the UK government was really hopeful.  Sixty-eight projects will be funded across many different types of restoration, among them the planting of 800,000 trees.  This is good news and congratulations go out to everyone, especially the new organisations and partnerships receiving funding for the first time.

As the dust settles on the excitement, where does the UK stand on its tree planting targets?

This time last year, the government promised 30,000 hectares of trees to be planted every year.  This was reiterated in the Prime Minister’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution where Point 9 set out the goal of ‘protecting and restoring our natural environment, planting 30,000 hectares of trees every year, whilst creating and retaining thousands of jobs.’ (1)

Are we there yet? The short answer is no.

On September 24th, the Forestry Commission statistics confirmed that 13,660 hectares of new woodland was created in the UK in 2019-20. (2)  This is less than half of the government’s target.  To reach the government’s target, we must plant more than double the number of trees that were planted last year in the 2020-21 planting season.

Are we there yet? Not yet.

The last time the UK planted 30,000 hectares of trees in one year was 1989. (3)

Can we get there? Yes.

Friends of the Earth has long advocated that we must double tree cover in the United Kingdom. Woodland currently covers 13% of the UK, much less than our European neighbours. In their recent work, Friends of the Earth has looked at how doubling tree cover can be done.(4)  The good news is that it is possible with a combination of grade 4 marginal farmland and agroforestry. They estimate that an additional 1.7 million hectares can be planted in England by 2045 (5), that would be over 65,000 hectares per year.  More than twice the rate we have ever planted before.

Back to our first question, are we there yet?

Trees are planted in places.  It will be communities that come together to make this happen.  Communities that are ready to lead the way, dream big and move fast. We know that there are communities who are dreaming big with their approach to the climate crisis. We have seen the creativity of those awarded funds as part of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund. Everything is possible.

So what if there is an ‘EarthShot’ that takes everything we know about trees and seeks to reach the Friends of the Earth tree targets by 2025?  What would it take? Imagination, Collaboration, Determination and perhaps a sprinkling of fairy dust.

Are we there yet?

With the collective imagination and ambition of communities across the UK, we can be.






5. Friends of the Earth is working to extend their analysis to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.