It is of huge importance that the government hears the message loud and clear from as many people and organisations as possible that real nature recovery must be the goal of the new national tree strategy.
The UK needs to accelerate rates of tree planting to 30,000 hectares a year to absorb carbon dioxide, prevent flooding and restore wildlife populations, according to a consultation launched by the government.
Currently, trees cover around 13 per cent of the UK, though this varies from nine per cent in Northern Ireland to 19 per cent in Scotland.
The government’s target is in line with the lower rate recommended by the Committee on Climate Change, which has said that between 30,000 and 50,000 hectares of trees should be planted per year.
The consultation is also seeking views on how to manage existing woodland better, how to help more people gain health benefits from trees, and how best to use trees to support the economy.
The government will use the responses to inform its tree strategy, which it will fund partly using the £640 million “Nature for Climate Fund” it committed to in the last budget.
Not just numbers
Ben Goldsmith, who is a non-executive director at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has been working closely on the government’s strategy.
He believes that the strategy should aim to deliver nature restoration rather than just focusing on trees and carbon. For example, new woodlands on either side of rivers and streams would provide corridors where nature could recover; natural flood management; and cleaner water as well as absorbing carbon, he said.
He also stressed the importance of planting more trees on farms to increase the practice of agroforestry, where trees and shrubs are planted around crops. Tree cover also needs to increase in and around towns and cities to allow people easy access to nature, he added.
Friends of the Earth also supports agroforestry, pointing to research that shows that agroforestry accounts for only 3.3 per cent of agricultural land in the UK compared with an EU average of 8.8 per cent.
Encouraging more trees to grow naturally by regenerating woodland was better than manually planting them, and was also less expensive and encouraged more resilient trees, Goldsmith said.
“It is of huge importance that the government hears the message loud and clear from as many people and organisations as possible that real nature recovery must be the goal of the new national tree strategy,” he said.
Countryside campaign group the CPRE wants the strategy to include hedgerows, which also absorb carbon emissions and support nature.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.