British experts suggest that the government focus on caring for trees after they are planted, rather than solely on planting them.
Experts are recommending that tree establishment be prioritized over tree planting in government targets.
It is possible that a large amount of taxpayer funds is being squandered on tree planting projects that ultimately fail due to government prioritizing quantity over tree survival. Concerns have been raised about saplings dying due to neglect.
The current system allows for the planting of many trees that are not properly monitored or cared for. Despite potentially dying before reaching maturity, these trees would still be counted towards targets. Experts warn that this puts the UK’s net zero strategy and biodiversity targets in danger, as they heavily depend on a significant increase in woodland for carbon sequestration.
Tony Kirkham, former arboretum head at Kew Gardens, spoke at the Royal Horticultural Society’s autumn conference about the importance of tree establishment rather than simply meeting planting targets. He emphasized that the focus should be on ensuring the survival of trees rather than just planting a specific number. Simply planting a million trees is not enough; it is crucial to ensure they thrive for years to come.
Scientists have cautioned that the government’s plan to increase tree cover in England by 34,000 hectares and overall tree canopy and woodland coverage from 14.5% to 16.5% by 2050 may not be achieved if there is a high rate of sapling mortality. This goal was outlined in the environmental improvement plan released earlier this year.
The 2019 pledge also stated a promise to annually plant 30,000 hectares of trees throughout the UK by 2025.
According to Sara Loom, the CEO of the Tree Council, there is insufficient information available on tree survival and the data is inconsistent. Additionally, there are significant economic factors involved in establishing trees. The government has set a goal of planting 30,000 hectares of trees per year for the next 30 years, which equates to 900,000 hectares or one billion trees at a rate of 1,000 trees per hectare. Assuming a cost of £11 per tree for planting and maintenance, the budget would be £11 billion. Therefore, even a small increase in survival rates of 5, 10, or 15% would have a significant impact when considering the numbers.
Experts are concerned that government-mandated tree planting efforts may not be successful due to a lack of trained professionals regularly tending to the trees and ensuring their growth.
Kirkham stated that it is likely that a significant number of the trees we plant will not reach maturity. Therefore, it is important to plan for aftercare before starting the tree-planting process. Many times, trees are planted but not properly cared for by subsequent contractors, resulting in their death. This issue is not complex, as most trees die simply because they were not given enough water.
A representative from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs stated: “The rate of tree-planting is currently the highest it has been in ten years. However, we are aware that there is still more work to be done and we will continue to collaborate with partners in order to increase the amount of tree coverage in the country. We have allocated substantial funding towards managing woodlands and have implemented various grants to aid landowners and managers in planting new trees. These grants often require recipients to provide proof of tree survival.”