Rush to plant millions of trees risks pushing up food prices

Woodlands.co.uk is warning today that the drive to plant millions of trees across rural England could push up prices of food grown in Britain by up to 25 per cent and divert attention from the country’s real priorities for existing woods and forests.

In its report, Trees or Food?, Woodlands.co.uk questions wide-scale tree planting and woodland creation in rural England as an appropriate way of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Various Government and charitable trust reports recommend new tree planting at up to 23,200 hectares annually for the next forty years as a way to mitigate the impact of climate change. If achieved, these targets would almost double the amount of woodland cover in England.

Schemes for large-scale new tree planting focus on incentivising farmers or land owners to remove farmland from production. Based on current land prices, the report estimates that over £6 billion would be needed to buy the land required to meet proposed targets. Alternatively, if grants or incentives were used to encourage farmers to plant trees on their land, costs would exceed £3.5 billion.  Removing productive agricultural land on the scale envisaged could lead to up to a 25 per cent rise in prices for home-grown food in the UK(3).

The report argues against large-scale tree planting as an efficient way for the U.K. to play its part in the fight against climate change. It points out that trees grow more slowly in cooler climates such as the U.K. Investment in faster-growing tropical forests would be much more effective at producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Jeremy Leach, who conducted the research for Woodlands.co.uk, says: “The evidence indicates that reforestation in the Tropics is a more effective way for the UK to help slow global warming. Tree planting on the grand scale being proposed for ruralEnglandwould seriously damage local food production and put at risk the survival of our natural woodlands”.

“A group of trees does not make a wood. To provide a habitat for biodiversity, new woodlands need decades of ongoing management.  The cost and effort involved in creating new woods from scratch should go to providing a coherent management plan for more of our native woods, ensuring their survival.”

Woodlands.co.uk is urging the Government to rethink large-scale tree planting and refocus on the real priorities for woodlands in England, such as:

  • Restoring ancient woodland sites to protect valuable habitats for flora and fauna.
  • Addressing the devastating effect on flora and fauna caused by wide-scale conifer planting of the 1950s.
  • Setting targets for tree planting in rural areas inEnglandat a fraction of those proposed in the Read Report.
  • Reconnecting woodland islands back into woodland networks.
  • Planting more trees in urban areas to allow greater public access to green spaces and improve quality of life.
  • Supporting new tree planting schemes in the Tropics, where growth rates can be faster and make a real difference to climate change.

Notes to editors:

  •  Click here for the Trees or Food? report.
  • Current recommendations for tree planting include:

                1. The Read Report (2009) recommends new woodland creation at an annual rate of 23,200 ha. This figure is made up of a “business as usual assumption of planting 8,360 ha pa” which is “enhanced” by a further 14,840 ha of new tree planting per year.

Combating Climate Change. A Role for UK Forests by Professor Read: http://www.tsoshop.co.uk/gempdf/Climate_Change_Main_Report.pdf

               2. UK Government White Paper (June 2011) The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature proposes woodland creation rates of 23,000 ha per year across the UK and its likely requirement that in England woodland creation rates would need to rise from the current level of 2,300 ha pa to 10,000 ha pa. The Natural Choice: Securing the Value of Nature: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/natural/whitepaper/

               3. Woodland Trust. The Woodland Trust has stated that the ambition should be to double native woodland cover and to realise the many environmental, social and economic benefits of woods and trees. For this around 15,000ha of new native woodland would need to be planted in the UK every year for the next 50 years (16). Its arguments in favour of planting combine the climate change objectives set out in The Read Report with detailed targets for access to woodland for communities.

  •  Concerns exist about the impact of removing land for large-scale tree planting on arable and dairy prices in the UK, where population density is much higher than in the USA. It is quite conceivable that the removal of productive agricultural land on the scale envisaged in The Read Report could lead to a 25% rise in home grown food prices in the UK.