An update to the government’s Carbon Budget Delivery Plan published last month includes a table (page 170) which wrongly suggests that the number of hectares being converted into woodland in the UK each year is set to almost halve between 2021 and 2025.
The table—also published as part of a spreadsheet—includes a row of data on “yearly afforestation in the UK”. It states that, in the UK, 13,300 hectares of land were afforested (newly converted into woodland) in 2021, but projects that this number will decrease to 7,500 hectares a year by 2025, before increasing again to 8,900 hectares by 2030 and 10,300 by 2035.
These figures are significantly lower than the UK target of 30,000 hectares of new woodland being created every year by the end of the current Parliament (2024). And while the figures are buried deep in the Carbon Budget Delivery Plan and don’t appear to have been press released or widely covered in the media, they have resulted in some confusion on social media, and were brought to Full Fact’s attention by a reader.
While the figure for 2021 does correctly reflect the total number of hectares afforested in the whole of the UK, the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero told Full Fact that the subsequent figures for 2025, 2030 and 2035 refer only to projections for England.
It told us this was because this is the projected data available to the UK government. However, this caveat is not made clear in the published data.
Government departments should present figures clearly and accurately, and take steps to ensure data does not mislead. Where figures are presented without the appropriate context or caveats, the government should quickly update or correct data to prevent a misleading impression from being given.
At the time of writing the table in question has not been updated.
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What are the different targets for tree planting around the UK?
According to provisional statistics published by Forest Research, the research agency of the Forestry Commission, in the year to 31 March 2022 a total of approximately 13,840 hectares of new woodland was created in the UK, consisting of 10,480 hectares in Scotland, 2,260 hectares in England, 580 hectares in Wales, and 540 hectares in Northern Ireland. (The sum of these figures is slightly different to the UK total, as a result of rounding). This is broadly the same as the figure for yearly afforestation in the UK in 2021 published by the government.
However, the 7,500 hectare projection listed in the DESNZ document for yearly afforestation in the UK by 2025 is the same as the 2025 target for England alone mentioned in a number of government documents published in recent years.
Similarly, the projection of 10,300 hectares by 2035 is the same as the level set out by the Department for Energy, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in its impact assessment of a new tree canopy and woodland cover target for England of 16.5% by 2050, which was adopted into law in 2022.
A DEFRA spokesperson told Full Fact: “The Government has legislated for a statutory tree and woodland target to increase cover of England to 16.5% by 2050 – which is stretching, but key for achieving the Net Zero Strategy.”
It did not confirm future projections for the UK as a whole.
The Scottish Government has set a target of 18,000 hectares a year by 2024/25.
In 2021, the Welsh Government stated that its target is to “increase tree planting to at least 2,000 hectares per year, aiming to increase this to 4,000 hectares as rapidly as possible”. A spokesperson for the Welsh Government confirmed to Full Fact that in order to reach its net zero ambitions it wants to plant a total of 43,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030.
In 2020 the Northern Ireland Assembly Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots pledged to plant 9,000 hectares of new woodland by 2030—averaging 900 hectares per year. We’ve contacted the Northern Ireland Assembly to confirm whether this target still stands.
Image courtesy of Jan Huber