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Sara Lom, CEO of The Tree Council, responds to those who say planting new trees won’t help us tackle climate change

It’s a well-documented trend that when a new, exciting idea begins to take root in public discourse, a group of cynics immediately set out to prove why it’ll never work. These balloon-bursters often serve the important public service of introducing nuance into a debate once a broad concept has been absorbed by the public. However, when the ‘tree planting can’t save us from climate change’ camp arrived, right on cue, I have to say my stomach sank.

We in the tree sector have rejoiced to see trees taking centre-stage in the climate change debate this year. The shift has been inspired most directly by the May 2019 Committee on Climate Change report which stated that we must plant 30,000 hectares of ‘afforestation’ (that’s planting areas of new trees) and 200,000 km of iconic British hedgerow to help the UK meet its Net Zero carbon emissions target by 2050.

Commentators such as Jamie Blackett, who raised many good points in his 4 December Spectator article, are right to point out that planting trees can only hope to store that fraction of the overall CO2 produced by the UK which we cannot totally stop producing through society-level change. All the trees in the world won’t decarbonise our economy for us – nor should they. They already do more for us than we could ever hope to repay. We breathe more easily, heal more quickly and enjoy our communities more when we share our space with trees.

But, in a time characterised by a sense of hopelessness and cynicism, the call for the nation to take up our spades and plant trees is an opportunity for people to take a positive action and must not be discouraged. Tree planting will play its part in tackling climate change whilst improving our communities in countless other ways. It could be the catalytic action which motivates many to look at the way we live, and what other actions we can all take to protect our planet.

It is essential that we plant the right tree in the right place. it is equally important to minimise use of plastic guards and ties while plastic-free alternatives scale up to meet demand. And we must always taking proper post-planting care into account. UK efforts should be part of an international approach to tackle the hugely damaging deforestation of our global forests. Trees grown from local seed or encouraged through rewilding offer rich benefits, and other habitats like our moorlands and peatlands must be cared for to do their own good work. These are all considerations the tree sector – such as umbrella body The Tree Council and all our members, are ready to provide guidance on. We can and must do it right, but let’s not dampen people’s enthusiasm before they’ve even started.