The speed of global deforestation is showing signs of slowing down because of new planting and natural forest extension, according to new figures.

But the world's forests are still being destroyed at an alarming rate, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, presenting details from a new report.

The numbers measure net loss, taking into account forest growth from new planting and natural expansion. An average 7.3 million hectares was lost annually over the last five years. This was down from 8.9 million hectares (22 million acres) a year between 1990 and 2000.

"The deforestation continues at an alarming rate, but thanks to efforts in planting new trees and restoring degraded lands as well as natural [forest] expansion in some regions, the net loss is a little lower," said Mette Loyche Wilkie, co-ordinator of the agency's Global Forest Resources Assessment 2005.

Ms Wilkie said that deforestation, mainly the conversion of forests to agricultural land, continued at a rate of about 13 million hectares (32 million acres) per year.