Michael Gove’s ‘Green Brexit’ pledge must include delivering more trees to the British landscape in a way that is clearly linked to the needs of the UK economy, countryside campaigners said.
Recent Forestry Commission figures showed tree planting across the UK was at its lowest level for more than five years, leading some organisations to question whether the Government will meet its target to plant 11 million trees by 2020.
The UK would benefit from more forests and woods and they should be used to help tackle climate change, enhance biodiversity and provide places for recreation, campaigners said.
In a joint statement, the groups - the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), Woodland Trust and Confor - called for support for woodland creation to be improved after Brexit.
A new countryside ‘contract’ between farmers, landowners and society should include measures to increase woodland cover, and see more woodland managed sustainably, the said.
Owners of existing woodland should be rewarded for the public benefits it delivers, they added, and in any future policy, owners who manage their woodland to the UK Forestry Standard should be rewarded for delivering a wide range of public benefits.
CLA president, Ross Murray, said: “Our members recognise the value of tree planting and the enormous contribution it makes to our countryside. However, we need many more trees in the ground - and a way of rewarding those who plant them to recognise the many benefits they deliver.”
The three groups issued their statement at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, where it was presented to Forestry Minister Dr Thérèse Coffey.
The statement, signed by Mr Murray, Woodland Trust chief executive Beccy Speight and Confor chief executive Stuart Goodall, reads: “As the UK prepares to leave the European Union in March 2019, we see a real opportunity to make positive changes to the future of support for farming and the countryside.”
According to the Forestry Commission, there were 3.16m hectares of woodland in the UK as of April last year, representing 13 per cent of total land area and 10 per cent in England.
Forestry is a £2bn business in the UK and currently supports 80,000 jobs.