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Welsh woods and trees “seriously under threat” according to new report

Ancient Beech Trees

Trees and woods are essential to the health and wellbeing of people in Wales, but a new report from The Woodland Trust provides evidence of multiple threats that pose catastrophic consequences for woods and trees across the UK.

The Woodland Trust’s State of Woods and Trees (SOWT) Report 2021 launched today (14th April 2021), is the first of its kind to focus on native woods and trees. It shows that five major threats are compounding to result in negative impacts that could spell disaster for the UK’s wildlife, including plants, mammals, birds and insects.

The major threats include poor  woodland condition; climate change; fragmentation; pests, diseases and pollution; and a slow rate of new woodland creation / expansion.


Key findings of the UK report include:

  • Only 2.5%  of the UK’s  land  area  is  ancient  woodland, and many ancient woods are now isolated. 50% of ancient woodland is damaged by commercial forestry or rhododendron invasion, and a large proportion of woodland SSSIs are in an “unfavourable condition”. At least 1,225 ancient woodlands are currently under threat from destruction by new built developments.
  • Only 7% of the UK’s native  woodland  is  in good  condition. A lack of dead wood, veteran trees and open space are causing declining habitat variety.
  • Only 290,000ha of new woodland has been created over the last 20 years, and in the last five years, only 45% of new woodland consisted of broadleaf, native trees.
  • 19 new  damaging  tree  pests  and diseases  have established in the UK  since 1990; there were only four in the previous 40 years. For every £1 earned from importing plants, it costs £50 to manage the resultant pests and disease.
  • Groups of indicator species  for all UK woods are  showing steep declines; on average, a 47% decline in woodland specialist birds, 41% decline in butterflies and an 18% decline in woodland flowering plants.

The most recent Natural Resources Wales SoNARR Report highlights a similar picture, concluding that Wales is not yet meeting the four long-term aims of Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (as outlined in The Environment Act Wales) and is not maintaining stocks of natural resources – meaning that iconic species like curlews are predicted to become extinct in Wales within a couple of decades.

In Wales, the findings of both reports have been highlighted by Natalie Buttriss, Director of Coed Cadw (the Woodland Trust in Wales).

She said: “Though truly sobering to read, the evidence within these reports reinforces why planting and protecting woods and trees here in Wales is essential. 

The picture of decline in many species of plant, insect and animal may be a reflection of a UK-wide trend, but the evidence is strong enough to indicate that urgent action is needed here in Wales. Our manifesto details how and why future representatives must make this a priority to boost the green recovery that Wales urgently needs.”

Coed Cadw’s Manifesto for the 2021 Senedd election sets out how in Wales, we can reverse the trend of decline and get trees and woodland to work for nature, people and the economy. It sets out proposals for politicians to easily support and be taken forward by the next Welsh Government.

Natalie continued, “The findings of the 2021 UK SOWT Report show that Coed Cadw’s proposed approaches – which include protecting the mature trees we already have, and the creation of a new ‘Hedges and Edges Scheme’ supporting climate-smart, nature friendly farming – could have a real positive impact here in Wales, helping to protect many of the species that are currently under threat.”