Britain will fail to meet its ambition of becoming carbon neutral by 2050 if it does not plant millions of new trees, the Woodland Trust has warned.
The charity’s forecast comes just three weeks ahead of the crucial Cop26 conference in Glasgow, where world leaders will discuss their plans to tackle the climate emergency.
In recent months, Alok Sharma, the summit’s president, has been busy flying around the world attempting to convince other countries to increase the scale of their pledges.
But back at home, the Woodland Trust believes more should be done. It has launched a new national “fightback” campaign which encourages people to plant more trees.
As part of this initiative, the organisation is sending 700,000 native trees including rowan, oak and silver birch to schools and communities across the UK for planting this autumn.
The scheme, supported by the People’s Postcode Lottery, will also see a further 680,000 free trees given away before March.
Darren Moorcroft, the trust’s chief executive, said: “Our woods are not in great shape, and we remain one of the least wooded countries at 13 per cent woodland cover, compared to 37 per cent in the rest of Europe.
“Without greater action, small and fragmented woods will remain that way and species will face extinction. But it is not too late – things can change.”
The government’s advisory climate change committee has said trees should cover at least 17 per cent of the UK by the middle of the century.
But a recently released Forestry Commission report found that fewer trees were planted iun 2020 than in the previous two years, with just 13,400 hectares of new woodlands created, far lower than the required rate.
Although he conceded it would be an “uphill task”, Dr Moorcroft said the UK needed to create 1.44 million hectares of new woodland by 2050 to help with carbon storage.
Currently, British woodlands store 213 million tonnes of carbon, 36 per cent of which is held in ancient woodlands, despite the fact that they only account for one-quarter of all trees.
However, the Woodland Trust’s recent State of the UK’s Woods and Trees report found that 1,225 ancient woodlands are now under threat due to development.