Government made two important announcements on 18 May 2021. As well as publishing the new England Trees Action Plan, it will amend the long-awaited Environment Bill to include a new legally binding target for nature. These are both enormous steps forward, but action on the ground must follow these welcome commitments. You can help keep up the pressure for change.

These announcements are thanks to thousands of people speaking up alongside us and more than 70 other NGOs. So far, both the plan and the promise of an amendment are light on detail. But if done well, together they could achieve the step change we need to reverse the decline of the natural world.

What is the England Trees Action Plan?

The plan sets out how the Government intends to expand, protect and improve England’s woodlands. It details how Government will meet its 2019 General Election promise of planting 30,000ha of trees each year until 2025. Previously called the England Tree Strategy, it’s the first plan since 2013.

New funding will move planting in the right direction 

The delivery of the England Trees Action Plan will be a key early test of the Government’s commitment to act. Our recent State of Woods and Trees report shows that despite its promises, the Government is way behind on its tree planting targets. This gap won’t close without proper funding, so we’re pleased that the action plan includes funding for: 

  • better and more connected tree planting and woodland creation
  • enabling woods to naturally regenerate and expand
  • agroforestry which will support farmers to integrate trees into their land. 

Tackling global crises with local action

Trees and woods are critical in the fight against two global crises: climate change and nature’s decline. But much of the action needs to be local. Communities and councils must be at the heart of plans for protecting existing trees and creating rich new green spaces for people and wildlife. This is reflected in the many comments responding to the 2020 England Tree Strategy consultation.

Only local authorities are really in a position to understand the complexity of particular places and trees. Surely every authority should be required to have a tree strategy in order to capitalise on the huge and underused reserves of local knowledge and expertise?

England Tree Strategy consultation response

Comments like these have helped ensure the Government will produce new guidance for England’s local authorities to help them create robust and comprehensive tree strategies. New money for local authorities will also help them to work with their communities to establish new trees and woods. Our calls to make these strategies mandatory have not yet been accepted, but this is a positive step forward. We’ll continue to work with local councils to encourage them to rise to the challenge. 

Protecting ancient trees and woods

The England Trees Action Plan promises a refresh of the Government’s policy on ancient woods and ancient and veteran trees, and clearer protection for long established woodland. Alongside the new guidance for local authorities on caring for their trees, this will help in the ongoing fight to protect our most precious trees and woods. But these irreplaceable, valuable habitats are still at risk. Only joined-up thinking across Government will ensure effective protection. The Planning Bill expected later this year must be consistent with the action plan and in line with the target to reverse nature’s decline

Tackling the silent threat: pests and diseases 

Our final priority for the England Tree Strategy was to improve the country’s tree health. We are increasingly concerned about the silent but deadly threats posed by imported pests and diseases. Our solution is to source seeds and grow trees in the UK for our tree planting projects without ever bringing them from overseas. While Government hasn’t committed to the same, it is investing in local tree nurseries. The England Trees Action Plan also includes a commitment for a new biosecurity strategy which we can expect in the coming months. Watch this space.  

The journey continues

The new England Trees Action Plan and the legally binding target to reverse the declines of nature are a big step in the right direction. They are cause for celebration. They are testament to the thousands of voices calling for change, demanding an overarching nature target and a clear plan for trees through which we can hold Government to account. To everyone who spoke up, thank you for being with us on the journey so far. 

But a target and a plan is just the beginning. Making progress towards more ambitious policies that drive change on the ground takes time and effort. The England Trees Action Plan has no timescales and is not legally binding. We must press Government to ensure that the promised nature target becomes law without further delay. It must be accompanied by ambitious plans for implementation. 

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