Tree cover target leaves room for improvement
We need well-connected woodlands, rich in native trees that fight climate change and help nature to recover.
Credit: James Reader / WTML
In November 2021, the Environment Act was passed into law, kick-starting the process for Government to set legally binding targets for environmental priorities. These include targets for improving air and water quality, reducing waste and restoring wildlife - and a target for increasing tree cover too.
A need to go further
For nature and people to thrive, every target originally proposed needed more ambition. Together they should drive the co-ordinated and decisive action we need.
Increasing tree cover should go hand-in-hand with increasing nature. Native trees and woods are crucial havens for wildlife. More high quality, native tree cover is vital for helping nature recover from current declines.
Native trees will help to:
- drive the habitat creation that nature needs to recover from decades of decline
- fight climate change by locking up carbon.
The original proposal was to increase England’s tree cover from 14.5% to 17.5% by 2050. But there was no defined plan to prioritise native species, critical for nature's recovery.
High quality native woodland expansion must stand at the heart of the UK’s environmental targets.
decline in UK woodland wildlife species
increase in UK woodland in the last 20 years
that's about 290,000 hectares
tonnes of carbon
held in existing British woodlands
What does a quality target look like?
Woodland expansion and action for nature must be connected. We need an ambitious target which ensures woods are:
- best for wildlife: at least 300,000 ha of all new trees and woods must be native to provide havens for hundreds of woodland species by 2050
- well connected: expanding our existing woodland patches will connect and increase habitat sizes and boost their benefits.
By expanding tree cover and prioritising a target for native species like oak and rowan, we can have the biggest impact on helping nature to recover and tackling climate change. In towns and cities, tree cover should be increased in a way that maximises the benefits for people. We must expand, improve and protect them for generations to come.
We must keep fighting for woods and trees
The Government’s original proposal to increase tree cover was welcome, but we campaigned for more nuance, as the type and location of woodland is as important as the volume.
In late 2022, the new government administration in Westminster published hugely disappointing targets. Not only does the tree target fail to prioritise native trees, the overall ambition has been reduced, the increase dropping by a third from 17.5% to 16.5%.
We're still working hard behind the scenes to convince the Government to do the right thing and we know we’re backed up by thousands of supporters who responded to the consultation in 2022. We'll keep you updated.