Trees protect us against flooding, provide habitats for our precious wildlife and are carbon capture machines. They are an important source of jobs, directly employing over 30,000 people and contributing more than £2 billion to our economy every year. In the face of climate change and the growing prevalence of pests and diseases, it is essential that we plant more trees and build their resilience.
The England Trees Action Plan 2021 works to ensure that we have 12 per cent woodland cover in England by the middle of the century, supported by over 80 announcements knitting together to create a comprehensive plan of action. Targets through the Environment Act 2021 go further, with the aim to increase total tree and woodland cover from 14.5 per cent of land area to 16.5 per cent. This target is key for the UK’s Net Zero Strategy and to deliver the Government’s manifesto commitment to plant 75,000 acres of trees across the UK.
Ministers will ensure that the right trees are planted in the right places, that trees and woodlands are better protected, that more green jobs are created in the forestry sector and that people have greater access to woodlands.
The Government is spending more than £750 million by 2024-25 through the Nature for Climate Fund to help meet the commitment to increase tree planting, with the aim of planting 30,000 hectares per year by May 2024. I am aware that good progress is being made towards the target, with tree planting and woodland creation increased to around 2,700 hectares in England in 2021-22. Through the Nature for Climate Fund, a major £20 million funding package is being provided, which will fund 100 projects championed by tree nurseries, charities and businesses.
I also welcome that the Local Authority Treescapes Fund and the Urban Tree Challenge Fund will reopen for new applications in early 2023. This will see trees planted in rural areas, as well as in towns and cities.
I am aware that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in collaboration with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will undertake a review of ancient woodlands and the protection for ancient and veteran trees in the National Planning Policy Framework. I understand that currently, development can only adversely impact ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees if there are “wholly exceptional reasons, and a suitable compensation strategy exists”. As part of this review, the Government will consider the options for further protecting these important habitats through the planning system.
I understand that over £44 million of funding is being provided to support the creation of larger and more diverse woodlands, which will be more resilient to climate change and extreme weather events, such as wildfires and storms. Around 2,300 hectares of trees, equivalent to around 3,220 football pitches, will be planted, which will see approximately 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide absorbed by 2050. This funding will also be used to create more green jobs within the forestry sector, providing new opportunities for local communities to access nature and create more places for nature and biodiversity to thrive.
I am aware that a diverse range of woodland projects across England have recently received £6 million from the Trees Call to Action Fund to help create forestry jobs and improve access to nature. These include six new Woodland Creation Partnerships enabling large-scale woodland creation across rural and urban areas; two projects growing and upskilling the forestry sector workforce; and three projects encouraging community engagement with and access to trees and woodlands. Investment in woodland creation is key to protecting our natural environment and achieving net zero emissions by 2050 and these projects will encourage woodland creation and bring people closer to nature.
Finally, I will try my best to attend the meeting of the APPG for Woods and Trees on 8 February 2023, Parliamentary business permitting.