Spending on trees fell in the UK
Published: 20 Nov 2019

Following a takeover from the coalition by the purely Conservative government, the spending on both trees and forestry fell, by nearly £20 million a year, between 2015 and 2018.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has said that only £132 million was spent across the UK throughout that period, down from the £151 million spent through 2014-2015. A shocking £32 million of this was spent on England, with most of the rest pushed to Scotland. These figures seem large, but for comparison we need to consider the other sectors that the government supplies money to, in a scaled down approach - starting with trees and forestry, this amount will equate to near to £1 per person in England, and less than £2 across the rest of the UK. These small figures pale in comparison to the government spending per person for various other areas:

  • annual spending for roads equates to nearly £90 per person; 
  • annual spending for fossil fuel subsidies totals to around £150 per person; and
  • annual spending for foregone tax from the nine-year freeze on fuel duty was £135 per person.

In a smaller sum, but still larger than that for the trees, there was (according to estimates from Friends from Earth) a cost of £7 a year for each UK taxpayer to subsidise fossil fuel production overseas. The past weekend saw a intense contention in the electoral debate on the subject of trees - whilst the Tories vowed to plant 30 million new trees a year, the Liberal Democrats pledged to plant twice that per year. Emi Murphy, a trees campaigner at Friends of the Earth, commented, "We're calling for the next government to properly fund the doubling of tree cover. This is one of the key solutions to solving the climate crisis but has been shockingly underfunded for years. Faced with the climate emergency and the dire impacts it will bring, we simply cannot afford to fund trees."

Last year saw an increase in the speed of tree planting - 2 million were planted in England with the government's support, which is an increase from the 1.6 million of the last year. The rate of acceleration however, is still below what is needed to meet the government's pledge to plant 11 million trees between 2017 and 2020. Attempting to estimate the annual spending on trees is a difficult job, as the money comes from various different sources. DEFRA's estimate is more than twice as high than the estimate that was made from the Friends of the Earth in a report they published - saying only £60 million is spent on trees a year, across the UK. 

The Conservatives are of the opinion that the amount of spending is actually a higher one, and that the government should not be judged on Theresa May's record, instead they should look at Boris Johnson's promises. The shadow environment secretary, Sue Hayman, has said that the Tories' new pledge had failed to meet the requirements imposed by the the Committee on Climate Change - their addition only amounted for around 1% of the required amount of trees that they said was needed - commenting on the issue, she said, "This is shocking but sadly not surprising from a government that can't be trusted to tackle the climate and environmental emergency."

The Liberal Democrats' environmental spokeswoman, Wera Hobhouse, has said that last year the government planted less than a third of the 5,000 hectares of trees that had been promised, stating, "We're pledging to spend £6 billion over the next parliament to fund tree-planting and restoring peatlands."

84% of the British total of trees was planted in Scotland, this was about 22 million. 

The SNP's environment spokeswoman, Deidre Brock, has said, "The Westminster parties must commit to further funding for tree-planting across the UK, and to match the SNP's record and ambitious targets for the future. Climate change will be one of the biggest challenges for any incoming government in Westminster."