Is deforestation a problem in the UK?

The UK government has been calling for more protection for natural environments. They lobby in support of initiatives like 30×30 at COP15. But is deforestation a problem in the UK and will the UK meet the target of protecting 30% of lands and oceans by 2030?

Why deforestation matters

Deforestation contributes to climate change. Trees are carbon sinks, they absorb and store carbon dioxide from the air. If they are cut down, they release the carbon dioxide back into the air. This contributes to greenhouse gasses. Deforestation contributes around 10% to global warming (WWF).

“We are out of harmony with nature. In fact, we are playing an entirely different song. Around the world, for hundreds of years, we have conducted a cacophony of chaos, played with instruments of destruction. Deforestation and desertification are creating wastelands of once-thriving ecosystems”

UN secretary general, António Guterres at COP15 in December (The Guardian)

UK deforestation

The UK is not protecting its forests. Between 2001 & 2021, the UK lost 105,000 hectares of tree cover. This equates to a 6.9% decrease in tree cover (ForestWatch). 

Some of this tree cover is ancient, over 400 years old. Ancient woodlands “are irreplaceable”, says Ed Pomfret of The Woodland Trust. The Guardian reports that 85% of ancient woodlands and over 40% of the largest woods have no designation or protection in place. 

Despite this, the UK (alongside Costa Rica and France) has been lobbying for 30×30. 30×30 is a pledge from countries to protect at least 30% of their land and oceans by 2030. It is in line with the 1.5°C climate target.

But only 3% of the UK is ‘properly protected for nature’, according to Guy Shrubsole, author of The Lost Rainforests of Britain. He estimates that a further 4% will be protected by the new Environment Act targets, but only by 2042. 

The new Environment Acts aim to 

  • expand UK tree cover to 16.5%, 
  • restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife habitat, and
  • improve marine conservation and reduce pollution.

“It’s the height of hypocrisy for the UK government to be calling on the world to commit to 30×30 and be falling so woefully behind on this at home”

Guy Shrubsole (in The Guardian)

Protection and good management are critical to success. Rob Stoneman, director of landscape recovery at The Wildlife Trusts, estimates that only 3.2% of land and 8% of marine areas are ‘well protected and managed’ (Wildlife and Countryside Link). The UK has over 4,000 sites of special scientific interest (SSSis), but only 38% of them are in a healthy condition. 

These statistics show that it is unlikely that the UK is going to meet its pledge by 2030. To meet the target in seven years time, they would need a tenfold increase in protected and well managed areas. More importantly, they have no plans in place to meet the 30×30 target (The Guardian). 

How can we help to stop deforestation?

We can support The Woodland Trust‘s work. They plant new forests and save existing woodlands.

We can support global schemes like the World Wildlife Fund’s forest campaign. This aims to reduce imported timber from illegal logging. Big UK brands like Marks & Spencer and Penguin Random House are signed up.

We can choose products from suppliers that use sustainable ingredients and materials. 

For example: Blue Patch members who produce furniture ensure that the wood they source is legitimate and sustainable. Blue Patch members who import coffee and chocolate do so from suppliers who are ethical. 

Annette Clubley

Annette is a keen wildlife conservationist, mindful of sustainability and our impact on the environment. Outside of work, family is her focus and she loves teaching the next generation to enjoy the outdoors.