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Celebrating National Tree Week: The UK’s largest festival of trees

This week it’s National Tree Week, marking the start of the winter tree-planting season. As someone who planted acorns and conkers and hundreds of apple pips with my great-grandfather, and who has continued this tradition with my own children, it is the highlight of my year!

November 2018

This annual celebration, established by The Tree Council in 1975 to replant trees lost to Dutch Elm disease, has since grown to include activities across the country. The Tree Council’s 6,000 wonderful volunteer Tree Wardens are the hidden heroes, bringing people together to plant and care for trees, throughout the year. We are very grateful for their support.

It’s six months since I was offered the role of CEO at The Tree Council. Arriving from The Royal Parks, I felt honoured to dive deeper into the complex world of trees; from urban trees, orchards and wild hedgerows, ancient oaks and protected yews to commercial forests, private woodlands and new plantations of whips and saplings. It’s been an inspirational journey.

Arboriculture is an extraordinary sector, contributing around £709 million a year to UK GDP. Plus, there’s the income generated from the forestry and horticulture industries. Even more important are the precious benefits that trees provide to our health, environment and well-being – producing oxygen, absorbing air pollution, improving water quality, providing shade, supporting wildlife, reducing crime, bringing communities together and lifting our spirits with their beauty.

So why is just 13% of the UK covered in trees? This is even more shocking when compared with the 37% that is the average for other European countries.

The answer is that, putting aside the effects of destructive developers and contractors, trees face many challenges.

First – strategy. There’s no national tree strategy. Two thirds of Local Authorities don’t have one either. If they do, they’re often lodged on a dusty shelf. Last week, I came upon one written in 1999 which had remained untouched ever since.

Second – the terrible loss of Tree Officers, made redundant or not replaced. Those who remain are under increasing pressure, often having to assume additional responsibilities. Their expert knowledge is vital to the wellbeing of trees and therefore, to the health and wellbeing of each and every one of us.

Thirdly – pests and diseases, from Oak Processionary Moth, to Xylella, and Ash Dieback. It is estimated that up to 60m big ash trees outside woods will die over the next decade. Ash is the third most common tree in Britain. With Defra, The Tree Council has developed an Ash Dieback Toolkit to help Local Authorities prepare. Trialed this autumn in Leicestershire, Devon and Norfolk, it will be launched early next year.

But it’s National Tree Week, so let’s look at the positives.

2018 began with the publication of the government’s 25-Year Environment Plan (the word ‘tree(s)’ appeared 75 times). This was followed by the appointment of Sir William Worsley as England’s first ‘Tree Champion’ to drive a step change in tree planting and help government reach its target of 11m trees by 2022, with a further one million trees in towns and cities.

This year too, Defra has published the Urban Tree Manual and launched the Tree Health Resilience Strategy. The Tree Council hopes for increased funding for urban trees post-Brexit, with the revision of the Common Agricultural Policy. Most recently, the Chancellor has pledged £60m to encourage tree-planting, including £10m for urban areas.

It’s never been more important to come together in support of trees. In 1975, the combined efforts of government, business, charities and local communities resulted in planting miracles. So in National Tree Week 2018, I’m urging everyone to help protect, conserve and grow trees. By working together in new and transformational ways, we can ensure a healthy future for our longest-living friends on earth.

In 2019, The Tree Council will convene a number of Forums to explore tree-related questions. If you want to get involved, or have ideas about topics you’d like to see debated, please contact me.

Sara Lom, Chief Executive, The Tree Council.

Follow @TheTreeCouncil and @Sara_Lom_

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