However, as at March 2020, it may be surprising to note that the current landmass covered by woodland in the UK is estimated to be 3.21 million hectares, which represents only 13% of the total land area. When this is broken down further we see even smaller figures of 10% in England and 9% in Northern Ireland, with Wales and Scotland leading the way with 15% and 19% respectively.
The UK government has committed to a goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, whilst Scotland has accelerated this to 2045. It has been made clear that, realistically, if this is to be achieved then there will need to be an increase in the number of trees planted each year. Despite the fact that, during 2018/2019, 84% of all tree planting carried out in the UK was in Scotland, the Scottish Government's current target of 10,000 ha (around 20 million trees) each year will need to be rapidly increased in order to achieve the 2045 goal.
It is acknowledged that the forestry industry alone cannot fully achieve the goal of carbon neutrality and that additional measures, such as a reduction in fossil fuel reliance, must also be promoted. However, the Scottish Government's Forestry Strategy 2019-2029 states that 12 million tonnes of CO2 were absorbed by Scotland’s forests in 2016. This would account for around a 30% absorption rate of our total greenhouse gas emissions.
The wood products which come from forests help to store carbon and therefore also assist in the reduction of the impact of climate change. Forests are almost completely unique in the fact that the more they are cultivated and produced, the greater the environmental benefit they bring.
There has also been a move to promote the attractiveness of forestry investment and the practice of sustainable farming practices in Scotland. At the beginning of the year it was announced that the Agricultural Transformation Programme would receive £40 million of initial funding in order to aid a move towards lower carbon farming in Scotland. In July a further £1 million was added to the fund, which aims to support farmers and crofters to diversify into forestry and establish new wooded areas. In addition, £500,000 was then awarded to assist the farmers and crofters in purchasing the required forestry equipment.
The programme aims to improve the sustainability of farming, both by restoring natural habitats and in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The new funding provided will be welcomed by those seeking to diversify their land and help to combat climate change.