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Tree Planting

Volume 673: debated on Thursday 19 March 2020

2. When the Government plan to implement their commitment to plant 30,000 hectares of trees per year by 2025. (901640)

Forestry is devolved, and we are working with the devolved Administrations to increase tree planting across the UK to 30,000 hectares per year by 2025. To drive up planting rates in England, we announced a new £640 million nature for climate fund, and we are developing an ambitious delivery programme. We will seek feedback and evidence on this through our new English tree strategy.

I thank the Minister for that response. The Committee on Climate Change has said that we need to plant 32,000 hectares a year for the next 30 years if we are to meet the net zero target, but my understanding is that the Government’s recent announcement was that they would be planting 30,000 hectares in full by 2025, not per year. Can the Minister clarify that? The manifesto commitment was per year, but I think the Government have not now committed to that.

I thank the Minister for her answer, and I welcome the investment in our green infrastructure. May I ask how the Government have funded woodland creation?

The Government have made major commitments. Chiefly, as I have mentioned, we announced the £640 million nature for climate fund in our manifesto. Ministers are working with officials on policy proposals to increase tree planting in England over this Parliament. We have also kick-started funding for planting the new Northern and Great Northumberland forests. In addition, last year we opened the £50 million woodland carbon guarantee, giving long-term income support to new woodland creation projects, while pump-priming the domestic carbon market, which is obviously something that will grow.

I thank the Minister for her responses so far. In her statement in answer to the original question, she referred to having been in touch with the Northern Ireland Assembly and the regional Administrations. Northern Ireland lags behind when it comes to tree planting. What discussions has the Minister had with the Northern Ireland Assembly to ensure that tree planting in Northern Ireland catches up with the tree planting that she mentioned in her statement and answers?

Obviously, we are keen for tree planting to expand everywhere, including Scotland. Scotland already does a lot of tree planting, because the nature of its landscape is somewhat different from ours. We have a raft of measures, and our officials will be speaking to officials in Northern Ireland. It is very important that we keep all that contact and do this as a joint thing. Trees work on the atmosphere: they hold the carbon dioxide, and that goes everywhere, so we need to be doing this jointly.

It is absolutely right that we vastly ramp up tree planting to help with carbon capture, but may I ask the Minister not to overlook kelp? It absorbs more than six times the amount of carbon as trees. We have vast tracts of seabed available, not least off Sussex. It helps with marine conservation, and it is also a food source. Please could we look at that more closely, and at how we can promote it, as we want to do, in Sussex?

My hon. Friend raises an incredibly interesting point. It is something I am personally very interested in. As we speak, there is a project under way to plant kelp and to look at how its carbon capture is going. Mudflats are similarly really important, as are salt marshes. There could be a big future for this on our new horizon of dealing with the land and the landscape. All this carbon capture is a new feature in relation to climate change, and I think kelp will definitely be part of it.

The Minister has talked a lot about planting trees, but made no mention of where those trees will come from; in other words, will they be sourced within the UK or will we be importing them, which will have an impact not only on employment but on the importation, as we have seen previously, of pests and diseases? Will the Minister therefore give long-term contracts to the horticultural industry so that it can rapidly ramp up the production of seedlings, for the sake of the British economy and as a health and safety measure ?

I forgive the right hon. Gentleman for going on, because it is brilliant to mention horticulture. Horticulture is such an important part of this country, and we are in discussions with nurseries, because he is absolutely right that they have to provide these trees. We would obviously like as many as possible to come from the UK, because that is very important, particularly on biosecurity grounds. I see a great new future in that for those nurseries, and we are in discussions with the industry.

I declare an interest, as a member of Kettering Borough Council, which is increasing its planting of British native trees from 250 to 500 a year and supports plans for 40 hectares of new trees across north Northamptonshire on an annual basis. What more can be done to incentivise local authorities to plant more trees?

As ever, my hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for his constituency. Many local authorities are embarking on excellent planting schemes. There will be some big opportunities through the Environment Bill in the biodiversity net gain sector, where lots of people will be able to offset when building a development; they can plant some trees to add 10% more biodiversity. There will be opportunities right around the country through the new nature recovery strategies which my hon. Friend’s local authority will be a part of providing, and that will determine where the trees should be planted.