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8 steps to woodlands for climate, nature and people

Heading towards COP 26, the UK Government have designated 2020 ‘a year of climate action’, during which the UK will be setting the pace to deal with CO2 emissions and deliver net zero as soon as possible. Trees and woods are right at the top of the agenda for 2020, and we have today published a set of eight principles that we think can help make sure more woods and trees in England benefits the climate, people and nature.

February 2020

As we accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis, we must also confront the ecological crisis which is decimating wildlife around the globe and has seen around two fifths of UK species decline over the last few decades. As the world has witnessed wildfires affecting huge expanses of Australia’s forests, we have seen how wildlife is struggling in a hotter world. With a Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) conference in Beijing in December that will set targets for natures recovery, 2020 should be a super year for both climate and wildlife.

Expanding our woodlands and tree cover across our landscapes is an action we can take now. The targets Government have set for tree planting represent a step-change in rates of woodland expansion, whilst others have recommended going even higher to get to net zero emissions in the shortest time possible. Done well, an enhanced network of wooded and other habitats could help us to tackle climate change, restore and reconnect ecosystems and provide a wide range of other benefits to society, such as healthy places to live and visit, clean water and flood protection. Done badly, trees can be part of the problem, as we witnessed back in the 1970s and 1980s when large expanses of carbon-rich blanket bog were damaged as the land use was changed to commercial forestry.

Wildlife and Countryside Link welcomes the spirit of positive action heading into global climate negotiations, so we have set out to provide a set of principles for woodland and tree cover expansion in England that will help to achieve net zero and nature’s recovery. We’ve pulled out the headline points below.

  1. A significant net expansion in trees and woodland cover is needed to respond to the climate and biodiversity crisis, deliver net zero commitments and compensate for the loss of diseased trees. To drive nature’s recovery, the majority of new woodland should be native.
  2. Funding and support must be made available by Government to deliver the woodland expansion, tree planting and management needed. A role for the private sector is also crucial.
  3. New trees and woodland expansion should favour native trees and woodland, naturally regenerated or from UK-sourced and grown planting material except in exceptional circumstances and where rigorous safeguards are put in place.
  4. A new spatial strategy is needed to guide woodland expansion, as part of a broader land use strategy for England.
  5. New woodlands and tree rich landscapes should deliver multiple benefits for climate, nature and people and be sustainably managed.
  6. Better protection of existing species, habitats and potential restoration sites and sensitivity to existing public access, archaeology and cultural landscapes must accompany expansion of our tree and woodland resources, underpinned by project-level surveying prior to conversion to woodland.
  7. A more ecological approach to commercial forestry is needed which delivers biodiversity enhancement alongside other benefits, with the nation’s forests managed as an exemplar.
  8. High standards of delivery for new trees and woodland should be backed up by transparent monitoring and reporting on woodland expansion and its benefits, including regular national canopy surveying.

As the UK sets out to demonstrate a way forward through the climate and ecological emergency, we hope that through our role as the largest environmental and wildlife coalition in England, these principles will make a positive contribution to unlocking woodland and tree cover expansion in England, and help to provide a way forward that works for all.

Neil Douglas, Senior Policy Officer, RSPB

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The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.