Experts suggest that tree establishment should be prioritized over tree planting in government goals.
They claimed that the government’s tree targets prioritize planting rather than ensuring survival, resulting in billions of pounds of taxpayer money being wasted on trees that eventually die. This is a concern as saplings are frequently neglected, leading to their deaths.
According to experts, the current system allows for the planting of many trees that may not receive 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 depend on a significant increase in woodland for carbon sequestration.
Tony Kirkham, former director of Kew Gardens’ arboretum, emphasized at the Royal Horticultural Society’s autumn conference that the focus should be on establishing trees, rather than just planting them. He expressed concern that meeting a target for number of trees planted does not guarantee their survival in the long term.
Scientists have warned 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 many saplings die. This goal was outlined in the environmental improvement plan released earlier this year, with a deadline of January 31, 2028.
The 2019 manifesto also pledged to annually plant 30,000 hectares of trees throughout the UK by 2025.
Sara Loom, the CEO of the Tree Council, expressed that there is currently insufficient information available on tree survival, and the data is incomplete. There are also significant economic factors to consider when it comes to planting trees. The government has set a target of planting 30,000 hectares of trees per year for the next 30 years, totaling 900,000 hectares or one billion trees at a density of 1,000 trees per hectare. With an estimated cost of £11 to plant and maintain each tree, the budget for this project would be £11 billion. Therefore, even a small increase in tree survival by 5%, 10%, or 15% would have a significant impact when calculated.
Experts are concerned that trees planted to fulfill government goals may not reach maturity due to the lack of trained professionals regularly watering them.
According to Kirkham, it is likely that many of the trees we plant will not reach their full maturity. However, it is important for us to budget for their aftercare before beginning the planting process. Many trees are planted and then neglected by subsequent contractors, resulting in their death. This is a simple concept – most trees die because they are not properly watered.
The spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated that tree planting rates have reached a 10-year high. However, they acknowledge that there is still work to be done and will collaborate with partners to further increase the country’s tree coverage. The department has also made substantial investments in woodland management and offers various grants to aid landowners and managers in planting new trees. These grants require recipients to provide proof of tree survival.