Environment Secretary Michael Gove has given a strong indication that the Government’s 25 year plan for the environment, due in the New Year, will tackle the issue of woefully low tree planting.
Speaking at the Woodland Trust’s Parliamentary launch on Wednesday (December 6) of a series of essays outlining its vision for a post Brexit integrated land use policy, the Secretary of State said:
“There is a responsibility for us to plant for the future. Compare us to the rest of Europe and the amount of woodland cover we have is pathetically small. The rates of tree planting in the UK, and England in particular, have not been good enough.
“There is a beauty and a poetry to a landscape decorated and indeed rooted with trees. If we have a care for our environment and if we have a view of this country that goes beyond the utilitarian and the practical, and which is viewed in a proper sense of beauty, romance, history and a desire to ensure future generations can enjoy what past generations have cherished, then we need to plant more trees.
“And with the publication of our 25 Year Plan for the Environment in the New Year, I hope we can say more on how we intend to meet that ambition. But we won’t be able to meet that ambition without the continued advocacy that comes from the Woodland Trust because it’s only by you holding us to the highest standards that we will make sure that the next generation inherit the woodlands, forests and trees they deserve.”
The speech was met with optimism by the Trust which has been calling for more action on tree planting rates and ancient woodland protection.
Its CEO Beccy Speight said 2017 has been a low point for the UK’s trees and woods:
“In England, new planting rates are at the lowest for a generation. At the same time, we see a continued loss of existing woodland at an accelerated rate due to weak planning laws. The lack of effort to quantify these losses means England is surely slipping unnoticed into a state of deforestation. This is an appalling and dire position for a developed country to be in.”
Mr Gove delivered his speech to a diverse gathering of MPs, ministers, foresters, farmers, businesses and academics at the charity’s parliamentary reception which aimed to share its vision of a greatly enhanced role for trees, woods and forests as the UK withdraws from the European Union and we disengage from the Common Agricultural Policy.
Ms Speight continued: “The aim of the event was to show that foresters, farmers and environmentalists are not at odds over what a post-CAP vision for land use in the UK could look like. A landscape rich in trees and woods has public health, environmental and economic benefits that were at best overlooked or at times discriminated against as a result of the complexities of the CAP.
“Withdrawal from the CAP and its oft-criticised and complex rule-book represents the biggest opportunity we’ve had in land use management for 40 years.”
Launched at the event was a series of essays from a range of authors on the topic, including Chair of the EFRA Select Committee Neil Parish MP, Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman, and Professor Ian Bateman, SWEEP Director and Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Exeter.
Ms Speight added: “We’ve been banging the drum for the UK’s woods and trees and trees for 40 years and we know we are not on our own. It’s clear their value is increasingly recognised not just by conservationists but by those looking at the health and wellbeing of society, as well as those turning a profit too.”
In 2018 the charity hopes the Government will seize on opportunities to make things right.
“Change can be afoot if the Government grasps the opportunities presented in the form of post CAP legislation, the 25-year plan for the environment due in the New Year and the revision of the National Planning Policy Framework. The latter could see the closure of a loophole which currently allows a wide range of developments, from golf courses to motorway service stations, to be located in ancient woodlands with relative ease.”
With so much change on the horizon, and in light of Mr Gove’s words, Ms Speight says: “We’re hopeful. And we’re watching closely.”