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Review article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Meeting tree planting targets on the UK's path to net-zero: A review of lessons learnt from 100 years of land use policies

Westaway, Sally; Grange, Ian; Smith, Jo; Smith, Laurence G.


The UK government has pledged to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Ambitious targets have been set to plant nearly a million hectares of new woodland in the UK by 2050 to meet these net-zero com-mitments. More than 70% of UK's land is used for agricultural production and to meet these targets the Climate Change Committee has estimated that by 2050 approximately 21% of agricultural land will be required for tree planting, agroforestry and the extension of farm hedges. Achieving this creates a potential conflict between land for food production and land for carbon sequestration. However, trees and woodlands, when integrated into farming systems, can be multifunctional and play a significant role in helping farmers adapt and become more resilient in the face of climate change. Over the last 100 years numerous government policies and incentive schemes have endeavoured to encourage more tree planting activities amongst farmers and landowners with varying degrees of success. This paper re-views the role of policy in determining the presence of trees in the UK's agricultural landscape over the past 100 years. We quantify the current extent of woodland and tree cover and aim to put the UK's net-zero tree planting targets in the context of historical agricultural land use patterns. We evaluate drivers behind the current extent of trees, woodland and agroforestry on UK farms and identify key elements of success in current and previous policies and incentive schemes to help inform future policy mechanisms for the UK to meet its tree planting targets. Farmers are increasingly under pressure to deliver a wide range of environmental goals as well as producing food. The effectiveness of financial incentives to influence tree planting is dependent on the pre-existing interest and values of the farmer or landowner and grants alone may not be sufficient to encourage farmers to plant trees. Scheme complexity, bureaucracy and insufficient payment rates are barriers to the success of woodland grants and agri-environment schemes. Simplicity is important to encourage uptake, however oversimplification of schemes can lead to unintended consequences. Advice and guidance are key elements in the successful adoption of any new land management methods. A key to future progress will be scheme flexibility to enable farmers to choose to plant trees where it best suits local conditions, to align policy tools with farmer values and to ensure that farmers and landowners have the knowledge and support to make these decisions.


Afforestation; Agroforestry; Climate change; Woodland grants; Agri-environment schemes

Published in

Land Use Policy
2023, volume: 125, article number: 106502

Authors' information

Westaway, Sally
Royal Agricultural University
Grange, Ian
Royal Agricultural University
Smith, Jo
Moinhos Vento Agroecol Res Ctr MVarc
Smith, Laurence G (Smith, Laurence)
University of Reading
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Biosystems and Technology

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land

UKÄ Subject classification

Forest Science
Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

Publication Identifiers


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