Pauline Buchanan Black picks up the gauntlet thrown down by the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan
Got your copy handy? In the foreword, there - check it, third para., third line down. See that? – ‘planting more trees’. That’s exactly what we need, isn’t it? More trees, of the right kind, planted in the right places. Who could disagree? And look! it’s signed by…. yes, the Prime Minister!
What’s it the foreword to? Well, a twenty-five year plan to improve the environment. A Green Future, apparently. Hang on though, there’s a second foreword. One from the Secretary of State for the Environment, in which the phrase ‘plant trees’ appears (count them) a further three times, two of them with ‘more’ in the middle. That’s good; the strongest declaration for trees by a Government since Peter Walker said from the Dispatch Box “My department has decided to proceed with a tree planting year in 1973”, a commitment, by the way, that was maintained past the two General Elections of 1974 and resulted in the launch of The Tree Council.
Herein already lies a short lesson from history. Governments, and policies, come and go, but trees have no political views and a healthy environment is fundamental to all life. As the Plan reminds us, we plant trees knowing that it won’t be us who enjoy their shade. Their longevity is way beyond the life of any politician.
So what else is there? Ah, now, a summary of policies; this sounds promising. There’s a policy to use and manage land sustainably, focussing on woodland to maximise its many benefits and supporting, it says here, the development of a new Northern forest and large scale woodland creation. What’s more, one for increasing the green infrastructure of our towns and cities in addition to planting still more trees in and around them. Can’t fault that.
Check out page 50, too: there’s a commitment to appointing a national Tree Champion. Now we’re talking! And yes, look, in Hansard a written question from the Shadow Environment Minister; – what powers, he asks, does the Defra Secretary of State plan for the Tree Champion to have? what will the annual budget of that champion be? and to whom will that champion report?
The hard ones first, eh? Certainly looks like it: “The appointment of the Tree Champion is one of the priorities of the recently published 25 Year Environment Plan. The Tree Champion role will promote the benefits that trees deliver, support the tree planting manifesto commitments and co-ordinate a cross government approach to encourage a step change in tree planting. Further details will be set out in due course.”
Er, hang on a minute. Did we miss something? Surely if it’s one of the priorities of the 25 Year Environment Plan, someone must have thought this stuff through already? After all, our Tree Champion has a big job ahead. First off, they need to get going on these 11 million trees in new woodlands to be planted by 2021 and then, there’s another million urban trees to find places for. All this, and the launch of a Tree Health Resilience Plan before the year is out. You don’t think they put targets in the plan that were already near to being ticked off, do you? You know, like you make a To Do list and include stuff you’ve nearly finished.
Well, even if they did, there’s plenty more in the Plan to keep a body busy: developing stronger protection and better management for ancient woodland and veteran trees, for a start. Then there’s pushing forward development of a biosecure supply chain for woodland creation; driving safeguarding of tree health; and improving the way councils manage street tree removal. Bit of an odd one tacked on right at the end here, though - putting together a manual for local authorities and urban tree planting organisations to guide procurement and maintenance practices. Anomalous, when those are the very organisations that have shown leadership in securing the supply chain and minimising tree losses arising from neglect. I’m thinking a bit more reflection will be needed before that goes live.
So much to be done. But I still remember clearly the time when the Department for Communities and Local Government had an urban tree team that was wound down. And the commissioned ‘Trees In Towns’ reports were consecutively launched, but their recommendations weren’t implemented.
Being the Tree Champion does sounds like it could be a step into battle, doesn’t it?
But you know what? For all that, it’s a step I’d take, in a heartbeat.