By The Tree Council CEO Sara Lom
These are turbulent times and the tree planting pledges made at last year’s election may feel a long time ago. However, the coming year continues to be a vital time for UK trees. Every month sees another important consultation announced or deadline looming on policies or strategies which will determine the future care and support of trees in our cities, towns and villages, as well as the countryside.
So here is an update on the latest tree policy to keep you informed and to ask you please, to continue to be a voice for our precious trees and hedgerows, street trees and orchards across the country.
England Tree Strategy – more needed to ensure a strategy with ‘teeth’
Over the summer, the government launched a consultation on a new England Tree Strategy. Thank you to every tree lover and all the volunteer Tree Wardens who sent in a response.
While we welcomed the public consultation and the efforts made to consult widely, the multiple-choice format made it difficult to respond in the detail we wished. We wanted the strategy to have clear and ambitious targets, especially for non-woodland trees (read our response here.)
So, in addition to submitting our own response, The Tree Council brought together a coalition of leading conservation and environment charities to discuss how we could push even further for a strong, well-resourced, well-integrated strategy for trees. We sent our shared response to Minister for the Environment, Lord Goldsmith, who responded immediately and positively to our recommendations. You can read a summary of our collective response here.
It is unlikely the strategy will be published before next Spring, but we have agreement from Lord Goldsmith that the coalition will be able to meet with him and discuss the written draft before it is finalised.
EFRA committee wants to know more
After the public consultation above had closed, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee (a small group of MPs or members of the House of Lords set up to investigate a specific issue in detail) opened an inquiry into tree planting and woodlands. The inquiry aims to explore ‘whether the [tree planting] targets are the right ones, whether the right types of trees will be planted in the right places, and whether enough is being done to protect existing woodlands’.
This a further opportunity to push for a robust tree strategy, with ambitious, legally-binding targets for new trees and hedgerows – one which gives as much focus to trees in our cities, streets and parks as it does to woodlands and commercial forests. This is an open inquiry and the committee welcomes written evidence until 19 November.
Local tree strategies
Local authorities are important custodians and managers of civic trees and it is just as important for them to have clear and well-resourced strategies, as it is to have a strong strategy at national level. Tree Wardens in Wirral have achieved a major victory for their borough’s trees by working with their community to develop a tree strategy, which has been adopted with all-party support.
The Wirral Tree Strategy acknowledges the wide-ranging value of trees and their importance to the health and wellbeing of ourselves, as well as the planet. It commits to increase tree cover in the borough to at least 10% within ten years. The Council also pledges to plant at least two trees for every tree it must fell for safety reasons. The result is a powerful demonstration of having champions for trees at a local level. Many congratulations to the Wirral Tree Wardens – we hope many other local authorities across the country will follow your lead.
Planning reform raises concern for trees and other green infrastructure
Government is currently consulting on a wholesale reform of the planning system in England. The reforms aim to ‘cut red tape but maintain standards’, achieve carbon-neutral home build by 2050 and decrease the time it takes to develop local housing plans (only 50% of local areas currently have an up-to-date plan).
In the new system, local areas will designate their land into three categories: Growth, Renewal and Protected Areas. Government aims to harness the latest mapping technology and introduce an infrastructure levy with a simple, rules-based system to replace the current process of developer contributions. Finally, there is a commitment to build homes with green spaces and parks close to hand and where tree-lined streets are the norm.
However, environment and conservation charities have expressed major concern about the impact of the reforms for several reasons. Firstly, the reforms will effectively cut democratic input into the planning process by half (there will be input at the local planning stage but no longer for final consent). Secondly, it is not clear how green infrastructure such as trees will fit into the new plans. Will green infrastructure have the same level of importance as other types of infrastructure such as roads and utilities?
We will be responding to the consultation and encourage tree-lovers to do the same. You can fill in the online questions or submit a written consultation directly via email. We will publish our response on our website when it is complete. Keep an eye out on our social media channels for updates.
With so much going on that will affect the future of UK trees, it is vitally important we all continue to be a voice for trees at every level. To champion the trees in your local area, why not become a volunteer Tree Warden. Or you can support The Tree Council’s national advocacy work by making a gift to The Tree Council.
Thank you for caring for trees and the future of our planet.