The benefits that trees and woods deliver for wildlife, people and the environment are increasingly relevant to a growing wealth of parliamentary priorities. Once a year we visit Parliament, inviting MPs and peers to gather together, meet with some of our key partners and supporters and reinforce the case for trees and woods at the heart of our democracy. Some parts of the Palace of Westminster itself are as old as some of our long-cherished woodlands and are built using timber from trees that would today be classed as ancient or veteran. What better place to bring everyone together to heighten that understanding?
Working with Government
At the Trust, we work hard all year round, across the UK, managing sites and working with partners and communities putting trees in the ground. We’re constantly active in Parliament too, influencing MPs, Lords and Ministers in order to effect change in Government policy for the benefit of woods, trees and people.
Every year the evidence base around the importance of woods and trees grows more compelling - and every year the political landscape becomes more crowded. Jostling for space amongst debates on Brexit, HS2 and industrial strategies can be hard.
Through engaging with MPs on an individual, constituency level, we’re able to raise specific local concerns, flag up situations where woods are under threat and demonstrate the valuable work that our teams and local partners are doing across the country to restore ancient woodland and protect it for future generations.
These individual relationships are important, as are the occasional larger events like our annual Parliamentary reception. This provides a focus for our work to secure better protection for ancient woodlands and veteran trees, to ensure that schemes to support tree planting evolve to fit changing political and environmental circumstance and placing the idea of a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife at the heart of Westminster.
Our unique opportunity
As we prepare to leave the European Union, we have a once in a generation opportunity to reshape land use policy in a way that reflects the growing understanding of why woods and trees matter and what more they can offer us in future. Research by Europe Economics for the Woodland Trust in 2015 shows that the UK’s woodlands deliver £270bn worth of benefits to society, yet we continue to lose our irreplaceable ancient woodland at an alarming rate and levels of new planting remain lamentably low, falling well short of Government ambitions.
If we are to seize this unique opportunity and deliver an environment that works for everyone, we must be bold in our ambitions. As we approach 2018, three key policy vehicles offer real prospects to make that change: a new Agriculture Bill, a revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the long-awaited 25 Year Plan for the Environment.
To help shape these opportunities, the reception provided the ideal platform to launch a new pamphlet of essays entitled Putting down new roots. It includes key contributions from the event host, Neil Parish MP and Chair of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, as well as landowners, the forestry industry, environmental experts and think tank representatives.
Hopes for the future
Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, gave a welcome address to the reception, praising the advocacy of the Woodland Trust calling it “powerful… effective and welcome.” He highlighted “the pathetically small woodland cover in England” and agreed that more needs to be done to increase planting rates. His concluding remarks were an important signpost to future government action:
“There is a beauty and a poetry to a landscape decorated and indeed rooted with trees. If we have a care for our environment and if we have a view of this country that goes beyond the utilitarian and the practical, and which is viewed in a proper sense of beauty, romance, history and a desire to ensure future generations can enjoy what past generations have cherished, then we need to plant more trees.
“And with the publication of our 25 Year Plan for the Environment in the New Year, I hope we can say more on how we intend to meet that ambition. But we won’t be able to meet that ambition without the continued advocacy that comes from the Woodland Trust because it’s only by you holding us to the highest standards that we will make sure that the next generation inherits the woodlands, forests and trees they deserve.”
You can view the full video of Michael Gove’s speech below.
Alongside Michael Gove, guests heard from our Chairman, Baroness Young; leading environmental economist, Professor Ian Bateman; our CEO, Beccy Speight and our host, Neil Parish MP, who echoed this message with strong calls for best environmental practice in the farming sector to be properly rewarded for the public benefits delivered.
Overall it was an upbeat event with a great sense of purpose, encapsulated by Baroness Young’s comment that “the time of the tree has come”.
There is plenty at stake over the coming months as key government commitments are put to the test. We will certainly be acting on Michael Gove’s call to hold Government to the highest standards.