The following is taken from a speech Fleur gave in the Environment Bill Committee in November 2020
Putting an English tree strategy on a statutory footing is key to delivering the commitments in the 25-year environment plan, alongside which the Environment Bill sits.
The 25-year environment plan has targets for net zero carbon emissions by 2050 and for planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year across the UK. We need interim and overall targets in the Bill to ensure that we deliver on those targets, as has been called for repeatedly by the Woodland Trust. Why is that? Trees sequester carbon, support biodiversity, protect against floods, stabilise the soil, improve our physical and mental wellbeing, filter air pollutants and help to regulate temperatures.
The Environment Bill seeks to do all of these, and more on trees would enable us to do it better and make it that landmark legislation. However, 53% of UK woodland wildlife is in decline. Woodland expansion is well below the rate necessary for the future. DEFRA has a woeful track record of missing tree planting targets. It cannot be left out of the Environment Bill and just left to happen. History shows that it does not just happen. We really need a statutory England tree strategy.
There is currently no formal mechanism to set targets for protection, restoration and expansion of trees and woodland in England. The Environment Bill is an opportunity to legislate and address the importance of trees in tackling the climate and nature crisis we face. The Bill aims to restore and enhance green spaces, yet it falls short in not containing a necessary clause about a tree strategy. There should be a strategy with the following objectives: increasing the percentage of tree cover in England, increasing the hectares of new, native woodland creation by planting and natural regeneration, and increasing the hectarage of plantation of ancient woodland undergoing restoration.
There were almost 3,000 submissions to the Government’s consultation from Woodland Trust supporters, and many wanted an England tree strategy to be put on a statutory footing.
We can learn from other countries that have put tree strategies into legislation and reaped the rewards. I have been careful, in looking at the Bill, to find out which other countries have brought in similar Bills. Have they introduced environmental legislation, and what have they learned from it? What good practice do we want to take from countries that have gone before us, with similar legislative and regulatory bodies, and what has not worked out very well for the environment? We do not have time for second chances when it comes to the environment.
I will take one example from Norway. We might think of Norway as a massively tree-covered country that does not need any help, but its 2005 Forestry Act was brought up to date to promote sustainable forest management, taking into consideration important environmental values, wildlife habitat, the storage of carbon and other essential functions of forests. Norway’s 2009 Nature Diversity Act ensured that forestry regulation complied with the legislation contained in that Act. Norway put forestry regulation on a statutory footing. It was probably littered with “musts”, and had hardly any “mays”—I can picture it now.
The success of Norway’s model and accompanying legislation speaks for itself. In 1920, Norwegian forests consisted of approximately 300 million cubic metres of standing timber. Today, the volume of standing timber is soon expected to exceed 1 billion cubic metres. It was on a downward trajectory, but it has tripled since the second world war, enhanced by the legislation that Norway has put in on a statutory footing.