A promise to plant trees can be a political turning point – mass planting of trees has always been political.
Now some want to be liberal, planting sixty million trees a year, others more conservative at thirty million, while others labour under a pledge of planting two billion trees by 2040, or if you are really green then seventy million trees a year seems sensible! To plant two billion trees over twenty years would require some twenty thousand tree planters a year – probably volunteers!
This enthusiasm for a greener world, expressed in trees, is inspiring and overdue. For two hundred years forested countries barely knew what to do with their trees. They were treated as expendable and a waste of space. But in a great cultural shift, they have changed from being dark and fearsome places to semi-sacred and untouchable.
And why not? In this new ecological age, we have learned that trees have far more value than just providing timber – they keep soils moist, prevent floods and provide shelter, store carbon, beautify landscapes, protect water sources, increase biodiversity, improve conservation and induce human wellbeing. So woe betide councils such as Sheffield that want to remove trees. From the Newbury bypass protests twenty years ago to today’s battles to save the ancient woodlands along the route of the HS2 rail link, there are few surer ways of angering people than cutting down their trees.
Much better to promise to plant anew…
And of course, having targets for more trees is only the first step. Parties need to ensure that tree planting delivers the right trees in the right places to maximise biodiversity benefits, and make the supply chain sustainable. They also need the policies and funding to deliver their pledges – some support greening the Green Belt using citizens’ assemblies to identify tree-planting sites, while some see agricultural subsidies being redirected to environmental schemes.
Friends of the Earth say “the UK needs to double its tree cover – from 13% of the land mass to 26% – to draw down millions of tonnes of carbon and make more space for nature. We have the land to do so – what is missing is the political will. Big numbers are meaningless without context given the climate emergency we face.”
Trees can be planted anywhere from schools and old peoples homes to parks, sports grounds, and even roundabouts and traffic islands, helping people reclaim local green spaces for their community. But while nature loves a mess, officialdom abhors one – instead of natural exuberance it seeks neat industrial rows of plastic tree guards tied with plastic ties!
The National Trust have not recently published any plans for large scale afforestation in England. In April they proposed planting sixty eight new orchards – interestingly they have nearly two hundred orchards on their books! They also have some five hundred tree avenues historically planted to frame a particular view, some of which are in need of restoration. Rooted in the history of Ashridge is the avenue on the Beacon Road at Crawley Wood where the original Ivinghoe common bursts onto the Ivinghoe hills. Planted in the early 1800’s when the road was laid down, comprising some fifty oaks and fifty beeches it is not recognisable today! As an avenue of trees there is no specific treatment included in the 20 year Woodland Management Plan other than the thinning of broadleaved trees – in fact there is no mention of increasing the tree cover on the Estate.
As a token gesture towards restoration – a byword for the National Trust – Ashridge would do well to replant the twenty five oak trees around the perimeter of Meadleys Meadow lost over the last century, outlined in the previous post “Lie of the Land”.