Government reluctant to set clearer targets to spur woodland creation to meet ambitions for net zero

Government reluctant to set clearer targets to spur woodland creation to meet ambitions for net zero

The Government is reluctant to set clear targets for the different types of woodland needed for the growing demands on UK forests ahead of net zero, MPs have been told.

The Environmental Audit Committee has published the Government’s response to its report examining the sustainability of timber production. Within the report, EAC expressed concern that the Government’s ambitious tree planting target for the UK was significantly off track, and that the private sector has no clear path for how it can best contribute to sustainable woodland creation.

As a result of the number of different policies and schemes, EAC recommended that the Government’s overall tree planting targets be divided into clear sub-categories for the types of woodland needed: be that native broadleaves that offer ideal habitats for nature, or conifers to supply softwood for timber use. Ministers consider that this would restrict the ability to be flexible to future policy priorities for woodland.

The Government has also rejected EAC’s recommendation for a target to be set for the amount of timber to be produced domestically, which could have again offered greater clarity to the private sector over their own tree planting efforts.

MPs were pleased to learn of the investment to Forestry England’s seed and sapling facilities for restocking felled trees, and of the Government’s commitment to encouraging the use of a greater amount of domestically grown hardwoods to be used in construction.

EAC welcomes the Government’s ‘Timber in construction’ roadmap published earlier this week that sets out ambitions to reduce the emissions of the built environment by making better use of timber buildings. But it is critical that a domestic supply chain is fully supported and that the UK is not increasing its timber imports.

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Environmental Audit Committee Chair, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said:

“With the deadline to meet net zero around the corner and a nature crisis upon us, it is clear there are competing demands on our precious woodland. The Government needs to balance nature and habitat protection, carbon sequestration, using more timber in construction which will be more in demand following this week’s publication of the Government’s ‘Timber in construction roadmap’, and potentially increasing the use of wood pellets for energy generation.

“The Government’s response to the Committee’s report does not address these competing demands with the urgency and focus the Committee has demanded. Some of its responses are positive, such as the Government’s ongoing commitment to engagement with stakeholders and its investment in Forestry England’s efforts to restock felled trees.

“Many of the Committee’s concerns in its report published in July 2023 centred upon the disappointing progress made to date in meeting the Government’s tree planting targets. The Government response suggests implementation will be assessed in 2028 to see whether it is on track to deliver its tree planting ambitions in England. Without sufficient planting now, the Government’s plans for the future expansion of woodland will be wasted.

“Overarching targets and ongoing engagement are useful: but the time for clear and decisive policy action is now.”

Image credit: UK Parliament / Gabriel Sainhas

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