Amid the endless stream of bad news, old and new, that has been surfacing in recent weeks, the U.K. government has made an ambitious and very welcome proposal to plant several million trees every year. The pledge has been moving forward, since it was included in the budget that was decided earlier this week, with 50 million pounds being allocated for the purpose, according to the official press release. The planting will take place in several places around the country, specifically in order to expand existing forests and convert farmland into woodland. The goal is to plant at least 11 million trees until 2022, although the BBC talks about 30 million per year.
The Chair of the Forestry Commission, Sir Harry Studholme, stated that “Creating more woodland is vital in the fight against climate change”, which is due to forests supporting wildlife, preventing floods, absorbing CO2 and when located near a city, mitigating heat waves. At the same time, the annual budget report states that an area “the size of Birmingham”, will be covered in trees by “ restoring peatlands, and providing more funding to protect the U.K.’s unique plants and animals”. Climate activists have welcomed the move, with Shelby Barber aiming to plant a million saplings in the U.K., from the BBC feature story on her work.
This development, especially the fact that it was included in the budget and therefore more likely to be followed through, is long-awaited and extremely exciting for the future of sustainability and the protection of the environment. The aim to be carbon neutral by 2030 is highly ambitious, and without the proper long-term measures, impossible. The news on that front is extremely encouraging. This is not a one-off attempt to partially restore some forests, but a sustained and ongoing venture to create new areas of green land. For these reasons, we should all applaud the commitment made by the U.K. government and of course, not forget to hold them accountable and ensure that the work is, in fact, being carried out.
The U.K. has been making advancements in its reforestation efforts, going from barely over 4% forested area in the early 1900s, to over 13% now. This new scheme aims to bring that percentage up to 17%, according to the BBC, converting land currently used for farming into pockets of forests or expanding existing areas by planting trees in areas adjacent to them. The reforestation efforts have picked up in recent years, in line with the government’s goals to combat climate change and offset the country’s carbon footprint. Trees in the U.K. are estimated to absorb 1700g of CO2 per square meter and remove 500g from the atmosphere, yearly. While this is not an amount that can be exclusively depended on to solve the climate crisis, it is an excellent contingency plan for addressing climate change in the long term.
In summary, the results of this project will not be immediately apparent. Young saplings take years and work to mature and begin to produce results. This, however, should not mean that tree planting is pointless. On the contrary, it must be done at the earliest opportunity and viewed as a long term investment, the benefits of which can be experienced in the future and, with the proper care, for centuries to come. It is admirable that such a step is being taken, as due to the length and scale of it, it will produce very little political capital. At the end of the day though, foresting the country can only have positive effects on its people, despite the cost and difficulty. Thus, it should be prioritized along with other radical measures to curb the climate emergency of our times.