03 Jul 2020
What is it and why does it matter?
The England Tree Strategy is the UK government’s long-awaited policy document setting out how it’ll support the growing of trees and woodlands in England for the foreseeable future. It’s a critical piece of policy – there may not be another way to influence UK government ambitions on trees and woods during this Parliament.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has launched a public consultation on the Strategy, which opened on 19 June 2020 and will run for 12 weeks until 11 September 2020. Civil servants will then assess submissions and develop a finalised Strategy, which we anticipate will be published this autumn.
Forestry policy in the UK is a devolved matter, so the UK (Westminster) government only has jurisdiction over England’s trees – the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland governments are developing their own separate policies.
Woodland cover in England is 10%, versus 15% in Wales, 19% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland. However, there’s also coordination between administrations, as trees and woods contribute towards UK-wide targets such as the legally-binding carbon budgets under the Climate Change Act.
One thing we’re particularly concerned about is Westminster setting England’s tree cover ambitions far too low – and expecting other devolved nations to do all the work instead. Instead, every nation needs to be doing everything it can to increase tree cover to help fix the climate and nature emergencies we face.
What does the England Tree Strategy say?
The draft England Tree Strategy fails to set any tree target for England, and the measures it proposes would at best raise England's woodland cover from only 10% currently to just 12% by 2050. This is woefully inadequate; after all, what use is a strategy without a target?
The government contents itself by simply repeating the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge – to plant 30,000 hectares of trees per year across the UK by 2025, the end of this parliament. But this is a UK-wide goal, not one for England. As the consultation says, “We recognise that England needs to play its full part and significantly ramp up planting, to contribute to the UK target” - yet it fails utterly to set out what part England should in fact play.
In reality, Ministers are looking to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver on their near-term manifesto pledge. The Budget announced funding for England to plant just 6,000 hectares of new trees per year during this parliament, meaning that other devolved nations will have to plant 24,000 hectares – the other 80% - for this short-term manifesto promise to be met.
Nor does the draft strategy provide any new long-term target for tree cover in England. It merely repeats previous aspirations to raise England’s woodland from 10% currently to just 12% by mid-century. This 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 draft England Tree Strategy makes no mention of improving upon this outdated and inadequate long-term tree target for England. Maintaining the levels of funding pledged in the Budget out to 2050 would see England’s woodland cover creep up from 10% currently to just 11.9% by 2050.1
The draft Strategy and consultation covers many other areas of policy around trees and forestry, some of which we welcome, some of which we have further criticism of. We’ll be covering all of these in our detailed submission to the consultation, which we’ll submit later in the summer, and we're more than happy to talk to Local Groups about these as we formulate our response. The key point is this: without a clear, ambitious target, the England Tree Strategy is fundamentally flawed.
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. We’ll publish it on our website and share it with Local Groups when it’s finalised. 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. 9 councils in England have now pledged to double tree cover, whilst the National Trust has committed to increasing woodland cover on its own huge estates from 10% currently to 17% by 2030 – far faster than planned Government woodland creation rates.
2. Funding of £500m per year to meet this target.
UK governments are currently spending less than £1 per person per year on trees – a pitifully low amount. To double tree cover, we think that the Government needs to raise that level to around £10 per person, or a total of £500m per year. This is still only a rounding error in the Treasury’s annual £500bn budget, and 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 loads 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.
How can I input to the consultation?
Friends of the Earth have launched a supporter action to get large numbers of people to submit to the consultation soon. This includes a standard response, but also space for respondents to tailor their submission, which we will very much be encouraging. You may wish to take part this way.
It’s also incredibly helpful if you can make your own more detailed submissions to the England Tree Strategy consultation, whether personally or collectively as a Local Group. DEFRA are likely to pay only limited attention to ‘carbon-copy’ submissions made en masse, which is why we are encouraging respondents to tailor their responses.
Even better is if you can make an entirely original submission, containing fresh evidence of your own. DEFRA have to take each response into account when evaluating the consultation, and it could help shape what the final Strategy looks like.
Responses should be submitted via the online consultation form or emailed to [email protected]. If you can also share your response with us, by emailing [email protected], it would be great to see them.
What’s helpful for me or my Local Group to submit in addition?
Your response could usefully cover any or all of these points:
Any specific criticisms you have of what the Government is proposing (e.g. it’s not ambitious enough, lacks a sufficiently ambitious tree cover target, fails to consider agroforestry sufficiently, etc).
Any additional evidence you have that you think the Government should take into account in shaping its Tree Strategy and making it more ambitious (eg the urgency of climate breakdown, how much carbon can be sequestered through growing trees, their cost-effectiveness, etc).
Why you personally or collectively think trees and woodland creation to be important (eg they help address climate change, provide more habitat for wildlife, the beauty and amenity value of trees, etc).
What you personally or as a group have been doing to grow trees and encourage woodland creation in your area.
What your council is doing on trees – particularly if they have ambitious targets of their own. At least 9 councils have already pledged to double tree cover, and Friends of the Earth is encouraging them to make their own submissions to the consultation – but it is also helpful for you to draw attention to their efforts, especially if one of them is your council.
What other local allies are doing on trees – eg if you know a farmer who’s pioneering agroforestry methods, or a large landowner rewilding their land, or a community woodland project getting up and running – all this will help show civil society is ambitious and that government needs to step up too.
Any more involved projects you’ve been working on around trees. For example, Oxford Friends of the Earth has been mapping the potential to double tree cover in Oxfordshire and working with a wide array of other local groups to turn this into a reality. Manchester Friends of the Earth, meanwhile, has been approaching councils across Greater Manchester about tree targets, and organised a tree planting day with Manchester City of Trees last November.
Crucially, by highlighting what you and others are already doing, you can then use that to ask why the Government isn’t doing more – it’s clear that there is huge public support for ambitious action on climate breakdown, including on trees, so why isn’t the Government aiming higher?
- 1The area of England is 32million acres, or 12.9million hectares. Current woodland cover in England is 3.36million acres, or 1.36million hectares. Adding 6,000 hectares per year between 2020 and 2050 (180,000 hectares overall) would take England’s woodland cover to 1.54m ha by mid-century – 11.9% of the country’s land area. Buried in the back pages of the consultation’s Technical Annex (https://consult.defra.gov.uk/forestry/england-tree-strategy/supporting_documents/englandtreestrategyconsultationtechnicalannex.pdf), the government states that “planting 10,000 hectares per year by 2025 is the highest possible planting rate for conventional forestry... in England.” It makes no commitment to achieving this rate, or maintaining it beyond 2025. Adding 10,000 hectares per year between 2020 and 2050 (300,000 hectares overall) would take England’s woodland cover to 1.66m ha by mid-century – 12.9% of the country’s land area.