A NATIONAL TURNING POINT FOR TREES - THE ENGLAND TREE ACTION PLAN
It’s been my privilege to espouse the cause of woods, trees and biodiversity all my working life. Along the way there have been turning points and shifts in how decision-makers view them – the Broadleaves Policy of 1985, the Read report of 2009 and the remarkable tree trumps game played out in the election manifestoes of 2019 to name but a few.
Along with many other voices, I have spent a whole career arguing why trees and woods serve a whole suite of objectives, social, economic and particularly environmental ones, and why they are not just an indulgence for the few but a live-giving necessity for all.
And now, I have to pinch myself that the moment is here. Trees are centre stage, a mainstream issue at last. They are our carbon shock absorbers, a way of bending the curve of biodiversity loss, a route to a greener economy and a connection to nature and well-being in a pandemic ridden world. Forced by the biting reality of the combined climate and nature crises and a goal of delivering net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, the government is getting serious. The UK has a global leadership role at the UN Climate Conference in Glasgow in November at which the critical role of forests in climate change mitigation and in nature-based solutions to climate adaptation will be much in evidence.
As part of this build up, this week saw the launch of the Government’s England Trees Action Plan which is without doubt the most significant statement of intent on trees and forests for England (and with implications for the whole of the UK), certainly for a generation, and arguably for a century.
And this is why. The Government wishes to increase woodland creation to 30,000 ha per year across the UK by 2025 and treble tree planting rates in England. This will all be supported by over £500 million from the Nature for Climate Fund and a new England Woodland Creation Offer due for launch very soon to support the creation of 10,000 ha of new woods and designed to make the establishment of woodland a viable existing and land use change for landowners and managers of all kinds.
The Action Plan includes over 80 separate commitments: several eye-catching ones for me are that three new Community Forests will be created, funds for UK tree nurseries increased, ten Landscape Recovery projects initiated, the Ancient Woodland Inventory updated, a new Centre for Forest Protection launched, a Woodland Resilience Implementation Plan to improve ecological condition of woods launched, planning reforms to secure greater protection for existing trees and new powers for the Forestry Commission considered. But there is so much more within the plan and and it is the complete package of measures taken together, including those focusing on tree health, economy, forest skills and the workforce, innovation, and knowledge and science for woods, that will move things further ahead.
All of this has to be done diligently, carefully but urgently - the right tree in the right place for the right reason is not just a catchy strapline, but a critical principle to avoid giving the naysayers any fuel for their headline making scepticism which bubbles up from time to time distracting energies from the Herculean task ahead. New woods must be quality woods, well designed, well located, and well connected, and the woods that are legacies from the past must be properly managed and properly protected.
In the same way we have inherited the decisions of those several generations before us, so the decisions we take today will impact the landscape for generations and outlive us by centuries. In our hands lies both the opportunity and the responsibility for changing our lives for the better.