UK Government's spending on trees 'has plummeted by £20m since 2015'
The UK Government spent almost £20m less on tree planting in the financial year 2017-18 than it did in 2014-15, according to an analysis of official figures by Friends of the Earth (FotE).
Through a freedom of information request, the green campaign group asked the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) to provide details of how much UK-wide funding was provided for tree planting, woodland conservation and forestry management since 2013.
Data provided to FotE revealed that £151m was spent in these areas in 2014-15, falling to £132m in 2017-18. This latest figure is equivalent to less than £2 per person, per year.
FotE compared this equivalent to roads and fossil fuel subsidies, which it claims cost each UK taxpayer £90 and £150 respectively, on an annual basis.
The data also revealed that much funding for trees has been spent in Scotland and Wales in recent years, with England lagging behind. Of the £132m budget in 2017-18, just £32m was spent on projects in England. Indeed, the Scottish government has increased its forestry budget for 2019-20.
FotE’s findings come as the UK Government is working to bolster its overarching 2050 net-zero target with sector-specific, shorter-term policy frameworks. On trees, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has maintained that 20,000-27,000 hectares of land must be rewilded annually between 2020 and 2050, if the UK is to reach its long-term climate goals. But over the past five years, less than 10,000 hectares have been rewilded annually.
In order to bridge this policy gap, FotE is urging Defra to increase the UK Government’s annual spend on trees to £500m. This increase, the group claims, could double national tree cover.
“Tree cover is one of the key solutions to solving the climate crisis but has been shockingly underfunded for years,” FotE’s trees campaigner Emi Murphy said.
“Faced with the climate emergency, and the dire impacts it will bring, we simply cannot afford not to fund trees.”
Barking up the right tree
The publication of FotE’s analysis has been timed to coincide with National Tree Week, which begins on Saturday (23 November).
To mark the occasion, the organisation has partnered with the People’s Postcode Lottery to host tree-planting events across the UK, including in London, Manchester and Oxford.
Elsewhere, Bristol City Council is marking National Tree Week by planting one tree for each of its employees and encouraging other businesses to follow suit.
The local authority has partnered with the Bristol Tree Forum, the Woodland Trust and the Forest of Avon Trust to deliver the scheme, which is aiming to catalyse the planting of 250,000 new trees by 2030.
Planting each tree will cost partaking businesses £10, with line managers and board members being encouraged to purchase them in lieu of Christmas gifts. A similar engagement framework was used by Bristol City Council for its ‘One Tree Per Child’ scheme, which has facilitated the planting of 58,000 trees since 2014.
To help individuals get involved as well as businesses, the local authority is giving residents the opportunity to “adopt” or sponsor a tree; plant one themselves; and sign its ‘tree charter’. The Council is striving to double canopy cover by 2046 and the charter commits signatories to contribute to progress against this ambition.
“Trees add colour and life to our urban spaces, improving health and wellbeing while creating natural wildlife corridors and reducing pollution,” Bristol City Council’s deputy mayor for communities, Cllr Asher Craig, said.
“We want Bristol’s fantastic businesses, whether they employ one person or one thousand, to collaborate with us to help shape our beautiful green city. Imagine what it will look like if we all work together.”