England Tree Strategy must deliver for climate, nature and people

Jayne Mann


The Government launched a consultation on the England Tree Strategy (ETS) on Friday 19th June. The strategy will be fundamental in ensuring the planned expansion for trees and woods tackles nature and climate crises together. It is a major opportunity for Ministers to turn their commitment to tree and woodland expansion into a reality and set the path to tackle both wildlife collapse and the global climate crisis by protecting, restoring and massively expanding England’s woodland and tree cover.
The Woodland Trust, National Trust and The Rivers Trust have come together to set out five tests that the final strategy must meet to expand, connect, restore and protect our woods and trees.
Our trees and woods are fragmented and face increasing threats from pests and diseases, climate change and development pressure. One in 10 of the country’s woodland species is in danger of extinction and there are more ancient woodlands under threat since records began. This strategy needs to set the ambition and path to tackling both wildlife collapse and the global climate crisis by protecting, restoring and massively expanding England’s native woodland and tree cover.
There is so much to gain by investing in new trees and woods: Well-located tree cover can:
  • reduce the risk of flooding
  • filter pollutants
  • create thousands of new jobs
  • provide sustainable timber
  • and of course, make people happier, and healthier.
While the consultation identifies many of the right questions, without a bold vision, adequate funding, real political will, and ambitious targets to make it a reality, the final strategy will miss the opportunity for our trees and woods to deliver for people and nature.
Darren Moorcroft, CEO, Woodland Trust said:
"The England Tree Strategy needs to deliver for nature, climate and people. It must set out how trees will help us cut carbon, support nature and wildlife, and contribute to better and more resilient landscapes and places to live and work. That means not just more trees in the ground, but planning expansion in a joined up way and doing much more to look after the trees and woods we already have. Protecting, restoring and expanding native tree cover – with all the social, economic and environmental benefits that will bring - belongs at the heart of any ‘green recovery’. We welcome the consultation as a first step toward that vision.”
Patrick Begg, Outdoors and Natural Resources Director at the National Trust said:
"Trees play an extremely important role for both people and for nature. They provide vital habitat for wildlife, absorb carbon, and provide us with shade, beauty and enjoyment, and sustainable building materials. The UK has one of the lowest levels of woodland cover of any European country, and the England Tree Strategy is crucial to setting the path to expanding our tree coverage with the right trees in the right places, which build our resilience to future climate change and benefit people, water, and biodiversity. It must drive improvements in the ways that we care for and use our trees - from woods, forests and agroforestry, to new wood pasture and trees in towns and cities. We want everyone to be able to see trees from their window - wherever they live."
Mark Lloyd, CEO, The Rivers Trust said:
“It is very exciting that hundreds of millions of pounds are going to be spent on increasing the number of trees in our landscapes. The scale of return on this investment will depend on the England Tree Strategy ensuring that the right trees are planted in the right places. Decisions about what and where to plant need to be driven by an understanding of the specific ecological and hydrological pressures at a river catchment scale if we are to maximise the myriad benefits to society of planting trees. We need to measure success in terms of quality rather than simply acreage.”

The five tests that the England Tree Strategy must meet to answer this challenge:

Test 1. Deliver new woodland for nature, rivers, soils and climate
    • Set targets for quality, not just quantity of new woodland so it delivers for carbon, nature and people.
    • Set a minimum net increase in woodland cover of 30,000 hectares from 2020 to 2025 supported by targets for riparian planting, natural regeneration, scrub, farm planting and hedgerows.
    • Confirm that at least 18,000ha will be new native woodland achieved through planting and natural regeneration.
    • Target woodland planting at a landscape-scale to maximise its value for water and soil, reduce pollution and flood risk and boost agricultural productivity, recreation and biodiversity.
Test 2. Protect and restore existing woods and the biodiversity within them
    • Set a target to significantly increase the area of native woodland in good condition for nature recovery.
    • Ensure all Plantation on Ancient Woodland sites (PAWS) are in restoration by 2030.
    • Transform how we protect trees and woods from diseases and pests by encouraging more tree planting to be sourced and grown in the UK and for new processes and resourcing for quarantine, testing and rapid response to disease outbreaks.
    • Commit to the maintenance and full implementation of the NPPF policy on ancient woodland and veteran trees.
Test 3. Connect people and trees
    • Support innovative approaches such as the Northern Forest to establish major new areas of woodland around large settlements along with more along with urban and urban fringe planting, connecting habitats and improving the management of river catchments.
    • Set out best practice for local authorities for Local Tree and Woodland Plans to increase tree canopy cover to at least 30% in new developments and give more protection to trees especially where they are performing an important service like flood protection.
    • Make sure street trees are managed and protected properly and new requirements on consulting communities before any felling activity is implemented.
    • Set out how the public forest estate can maximise its value to people and nature.
Test 4. Support the woodland economy
    • Invest in plant nursery capacity and in seed production and collection so all new trees planted using public money are UK-grown.
    • Support local economies by investing in skills training needed to care for trees and expand our woodlands, and in promoting attractive landscapes that help support tourism.
    • Strengthen supply chains to encourage more use of homegrown timber as a sustainable building material for new build, renovation and repair.
Test 5. Funding to make it happen
    • Confirm that the Nature for Climate Fund will provide major financial support to the objectives in the ETS.
    • Ensure that investments are made on the basis of 'public money for public goods'.
    • Integrate and give equal value to nature and climate in decision making on investment.
    • Set out medium-term investment priorities, beyond 2025.
This article has been supported by WaterGoG, a NSR Interreg Project.
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