This briefing explains how councils can respond to the government's England Tree Strategy consultation.

14 Jul 2020

How will the England Tree Strategy affect local authorities?

The government has launched a consultation on its draft England Tree Strategy, which has important implications for local authorities. It opened on 19 June 2020 and will run for 12 weeks until 11 September 2020. The government will then assess submissions and develop a finalised Strategy, which we anticipate will be published this autumn. 

The draft England Tree Strategy fails to set any new tree target for England. It merely repeats previous aspirations to raise England’s woodland cover from 10% to just 12% by 2060 (the EU average is currently 38%). This 12% goal was an aspiration laid out in 2013  by former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson – a climate sceptic – prior to the Paris Agreement, before the government adopted a net-zero emissions target, and prior to parliament declaring a climate emergency.

The absence of any new tree target is completely inadequate. The draft strategy repeats the Conservative manifesto pledge to plant 30,000 ha of trees per year across the UK by 2025, but this is a UK-wide goal, not one for England.

Instead of setting a new tree target for England, the government has passed the buck to councils to set local targets. The draft strategy says: “Tree canopy cover targets could help local authorities to value trees as green assets, and set out achievable ambitions to plant and protect more trees.”

The government has assigned responsibility to councils to increase tree cover, but does not make any specific proposals for increasing funding for local authorities. The draft strategy says: “we believe leadership to increase tree cover is best taken at the local level…We stand ready to ensure LAs are appropriately funded in line with the New Burdens Doctrine by scrutinising the potential additional costs to local authorities through the new burdens assessment process.”

The proposed strategy raises the possibility of providing grants and changing regulations to support agroforestry. This could have key implications for local authorities that own County Farms. Across England, there are 208,000 acres of council-owned county farms.

How to respond to the consultation

Responses to the consultation should be submitted via the online consultation form  or emailed to tree.strategy.consultation@defra.gov.uk. The government’s online consultation form does not include any questions about a tree target nor does it have a box where respondents can leave general comments. Therefore, we recommend sending a response by email.

If you can also share your response with us, by emailing trees@foe.co.uk, it would be great to see them.

If you have Twitter, you can also tweet at the Forestry Minister Zac Goldsmith. His Twitter handle is @ZacGoldsmith.

What is Friends of the Earth calling for?

 Friends of the Earth will be making a detailed submission to the consultation, which we’re currently in the process of drafting. In the meantime, our main campaign asks are: 

1. A clear target in the England Tree Strategy to double tree cover. 

Doubling UK woodland cover could help absorb 10% of the UK’s current greenhouse gas emissions annually – some 47 MtCO2e. We know we have more than enough suitable land to double tree cover in England, without impacting on peat, other precious habitats or valuable farmland. We know also that there’s strong public support for doing this – over 150,000 people have signed our petition to double tree cover. Furthermore, others are already stepping up to show the way. Nine councils in England have now pledged to double tree cover.

2. Increase government funding for trees and woodlands. 

Currently, there is not enough Government funding for local authorities and other landowners to grow trees and woodlands. In 2018-19, only £20.5 million was spent on woodland grants in England, compared to over £50 million in Scotland. Also, there are no agroforestry grants available in England.

To encourage landowners to grow trees and woodlands, the England Tree Strategy should guarantee that the upcoming Environmental Land Management scheme (ELMs) will provide much more funding for trees and woodlands, reflecting the many public benefits they provide. To be effective, this funding must compensate landowners and land managers for both the direct costs of creating and maintaining woodlands, as well as the opportunity costs of foregoing revenue from alternative land uses, including farming.

Moreover, ELMs will not start until 2024, with full implementation in 2027, so it is vital that the Government provides new funding during this parliament for woodland creation, street trees and agroforestry. This will help restart the economy by creating new jobs in forestry, tourism and ecosystem restoration.

3. Support for a diverse range of approaches to meeting this goal, from agroforestry to natural regeneration. 

Doubling tree cover is achievable but will require everyone to collaborate and pull out all the stops. We don’t think there is a single ”silver bullet” approach. For example:

  • We need much more native broadleaved woodland, but we also need more sustainable commercial forestry to replace some of the vast amounts of wood we import (some of which is driving deforestation in other countries). 
  • We want to see the Government do much more to financially support natural regeneration (the self-seeding of trees – current grants are geared towards just supporting tree-planting) as well as agroforestry (where trees are integrated into farmed landscapes, from restored orchards to shelter belts and wider hedgerows). 

We’re concerned that DEFRA and the Forestry Commission remain too wedded to an old-fashioned, monolithic approach to trees, focused on promoting large forestry plantations. These have their place, but there are so many other and better approaches to increasing tree cover, in ways that deliver for both climate and nature.  

 

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