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April 14, 2021

UK woodlands and trees approaching crisis point: report

World

P
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April 14, 2021

LONDON: UK woods and trees are approaching crisis point in the face of a “barrage” of threats including habitat damage, climate change and nitrogen pollution, a report warns.

Just 7 per cent of the country’s native woodland is in a good ecological condition, a report into the state of the UK’s woods and trees by the Woodland Trust has concluded.

Native woods and trees can help curb carbon emissions and reverse declines in wildlife, but failing to address the problems they face will undermine efforts to tackle both the climate and nature crises, the charity warned.

The government has plans to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year by 2025 across the UK to tackle climate change.

But the Trust’s director of conservation and external affairs Abi Bunker said there was “no success in hitting creation targets if our existing woods and trees are struggling and in decline”. Woodlands and trees in the countryside and cities are valuable to people as well as wildlife, providing carbon storage and flood protection, as well as boosting health and wellbeing.

But not nearly enough is being done to create resilient native woodlands, protect and restore existing woods and put individual trees back in the landscape, the trust’s study warned. Woods and trees face a barrage of threats including imported diseases, invasive plants and direct loss of woodland to development, while what remains is fragmented, the report said.

All woodlands in England, and most in other parts of the UK, exceed harmful levels on nitrogen pollution, changing the natural make-up of the habitat by damaging delicate lichens and helping grass outcompete wildflowers.

And climate change is shifting the pattern of the seasons, so spring is happening around 8.4 days earlier, hitting wildlife such as blue tits which can find their breeding cycles now mismatch their food supply for chicks.

In light of the report’s findings, the conservation charity called for efforts to quadruple woodland creation, restore ancient woods, remove invasive species such as rhododendron at a landscape scale and tackle air pollution.

The Woodland Trust is calling for legally binding targets in the Environment Bill to restore nature including precious ancient woodland – areas where there have been woods since at least 1600.

And it wants to see ambitious, effective and well-funded woodland policies and grants for landowners and communities to look after existing woods and ensure native woods are a major part of expansion efforts – rather than leaving it to the market to create conifer plantations.