Moving soon – come join us

WT websiteWe’re moving from WordPress soon

Soon we will be blogging exclusively on the new Woodland Trust website. Woodland Matters will remain live but will no longer be updated or maintained.

Why are we moving?

We want to offer a more personalised experience for you, our wonderful readers. You will still be able to follow your favourite blogs and authors, but will also be able to create your own ‘scrap book’ of favourite content (including publications and citizen science news). You can still join in the conversation too, of course! Plus, our new website has the most up-to-date woodland news and conservation views from across the Trust, and the many ways that people can get involved in protecting, restoring and creating UK woods and trees – like taking part in our campaigns or applying for free community tree packs.

We’d like to say a big thank you to all of our subscribers and readers for joining us on our blogging journey over the last four years. The enthusiasm and comments we’ve received from you have been stimulating and thought provoking, and the blog has really evolved over time.

We hope you will join us in our new blogging home where we will continue to discuss the matters important to us and you. Once we are fully moved over we will let you know how you can sign up and follow us (Woodland Matters will continue in the interim).

Beautiful Appleton Jan,Feb 08 - Steven Highfield WTPL thanks

Posted in Campaigning, Conservation, Government Affairs | 8 Comments

Woods, trees and the party conference season: Part 1…

‘Life’s better together with trees’, quipped Clive Anderson, President of the Woodland Trust, as he formally opened the first of the Trust’s party conference season fringe events.

He was speaking in the Midland Hotel in Manchester, next to the main conference centre where many organisations held fringe meetings during the Labour Party Conference. Following on from the launch of our call for a Charter for trees, woods and people at the House of Commons in June, the Trust is discussing what our call for a Charter and associated manifesto asks mean within each of the three main political traditions; we have similar fringe events this week in Birmingham and next week in Glasgow where we will discuss the same with the Conservative and Lib Dem parties.

As a conservation charity, the Woodland Trust has no intention to try and influence how voters act next May but we are determined – like others holding fringe events – to ensure that all political parties get to hear about the things we and our supporters care about as they prepare their manifestos ahead of the next election.

We were delighted at the standard of debate in Manchester which got our conference season programme under way.

Our CEO, Beccy Speight, set out the case for a new Charter: the range of challenges facing woods and trees, and the need to ensure everyone – whoever they are, wherever they live – can benefit from trees.

Barry Gardiner, Shadow environment minister, spoke eloquently about how “it is difficult to conceive of a landscape feature more important than a tree”. He went onto describe Labour’s ambitions to ensure that biodiversity and access take their proper place in the priorities of the Public Forest Estate. He also indicated that building on the success of the National Forest would be a key priority for woodland creation policy. He also talked about the need to protect the landscapes which deliver ecosystem services.

Joan Walley chair of the Commons Environmental Audit committee spoke of how trees were “a physical symbol” of long-term strategic planning. She also spoke of how in policy terms, they suffer from lack of synchronicity with political cycles. Joan’s drawing attention to the public health importance of trees was much appreciated and stimulated valuable extra debate.

Anthea Sully, former leader of the Labour group on Peterborough Council, brought the increasingly important local perspective and spoke of the ‘cradle to grave’ importance of trees in people’s lives and their role in creating communities where people can thrive.

All in all, a strong start to conference season. However, with all parties, the real test will come in setting out and implementing policy!

You can follow me on our new website using ‘My Scrapbook’ to get the latest updates as conference season continues.

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Fingers in ears

(When consultation doesn’t tell you what you wanted to hear.)

The news this week that a developer has been accused of hiding ‘embarrassing opposition’ to their plans was met with a yawn at Woodland Trust HQ (before we got really annoyed, but more on that in a moment). This is just another good example of an issue we face a lot: when consultation is not really consultation, but tokenism.

Wikipedia defines public consultation as;

a regulatory process by which the public’s input on matters affecting them is sought. Its main goals are in improving the efficiency, transparency and public involvement in large-scale projects or laws and policies.”

What’s supposed to happen next is the results of your consultation inform your final plans. Sometimes though, the responses you receive don’t always match what you wanted to hear. And there can be many. When this happens, it seems a default reaction is to attempt to underplay the value of these responses by lumping them into one.

This is often seen when a number of responses that are received say the same thing (for example a petition), or express similar concerns (for example emails generated by a campaign), or when a lot of responses come via a single route (for example when facilitated through an organisation). In a similar vein some MPs, government departments and various local planning authorities have also been known to question the validity of what they call ‘mass emails’ and petitions.

The consulting body in this case, Gatwick’s fund manager owner Global Infrastructure Partners, has produced a report on its consultation results. It describes the 4,092 responses which the Trust facilitated to its consultation on the three options put forward for a new runway as ‘an organised campaign’, in an apparent attempt to understate both the volume of responses (53% of all the responses GIP received) and the result – a resounding ‘no’ to a new runway, on the basis of ancient woodland loss.

Unfortunately this report also includes several fundamental misunderstandings about ancient woodland ecology and management. We’ll expand on this in another post. GIP also ignores the fact that many of these (1,058 to be exact) took the time to add further, personal comments on the plans. This is possibly what’s annoyed us the most. Ancient woodland, like the rest of the natural world, can’t speak up for itself. Not all of these people are Woodland Trust members, as GIP have assumed, but they do all have one thing in common with the Trust; a belief that ancient woodland is an irreplaceable natural resource that needs to be given proper consideration in planning proposals.

All this is important, because the report will be given to the Airports Commision which will use it as part of its recommendations for aviation expansion next year. It should be accurate.

If the public response you receive doesn’t reflect what you really wanted it to say, then man up – don’t hide it. And if you didn’t really want to know, why ask?

For the record, we will be making doubly sure that GIP takes heed of what those 4,000+ people said about the plans for a second runway, if we have to hand them in to their offices ourselves!

Why do you take part in consultations through campaigns like ours? We’d love to know your views:

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One step closer: the fight to save Bluebell Wood

We are delighted to hear that an application to bulldoze ancient Bluebell Wood in Maidstone, Kent, has been refused. The plans put forward by developer Croudace were to build 500 homes adjacent to Bluebell Wood with associated access routes, but on 3rd July 2014 Maidstone Councillors voted unanimously to reject the proposals and save this precious wood. It is the right decision and we are really pleased to see decision-makers in Maidstone listening to local people and acknowledging the value of ancient woodland.

Bluebell Wood has a reprieve, for now

Bluebell Wood – granted a (temporary) reprieve

When the local community originally contacted us back in spring 2013 we were horrified – here were proposals to destroy yet more ancient woodland in Maidstone only a matter of months after 32 hectares of ancient woodland at neighbouring Oaken Wood were sentenced to be demolished. In a precedent-setting case of national significance, we saw ‘economic benefit’ triumph over ecological value at Oaken. For anyone concerned about the conservation of ancient woodland that decision was bad news. The outlook for Bluebell Wood based on this recent history was bleak.

Historical mapping suggests that Bluebell Wood once formed part of a wider body of woodland stretching across the area, providing an important corridor for wildlife. Now, although fragmented, it remains a living history, cherished by the local community and depended on by many surviving animals and plants including the spring time carpet of bluebells which gave the wood its name.

We’ve had quite a discussion here at the Trust about why we can’t call this excellent result a ‘success’. As our campaigner Katharine explains;

The decision is a step in the right direction by a forward-thinking council, and they should be commended for considering the value of this ancient wood and listening to the community. But a developer has the right to appeal a planning decision for six months after the decision has been made. Croudace has said it will appeal, which means the Council is going to be continuing the fight along with the community and the Trust will maintain our objection to the application and will submit further comments to the appeal.

Because of the right to appeal, the Trust never records a wood under threat as ‘saved’ on our database until that all important six months has gone by with no further activity; with this case now going to appeal it will be a while before we can say Bluebell Wood is truly ‘safe’ – and that’s assuming the developer’s appeal isn’t upheld for some reason. Plus, we understand from the local group that Croudace intends to submit two further applications for the same site while this appeal goes through, so it really is an ongoing battle.

Well done to everyone for all the hard work that has already gone in to protecting Bluebell Wood! We will continue to work with New Allington Action Group (NAAG) which has campaigned tirelessly so far. Diana from NAAG has this inspiring message to other campaigners fighting to save the woods and trees they care about:

“…Never give up, keep digging, nag local Councils for support, lobby as many as possible, become a pain and raise public awareness, through various ways, including ‘Road shows’, local papers, posters, leaflets, newsletters, website, Facebook, protests, demonstrations. Keep the story active and alive with regular posts to keep in people’s minds.”

You can find out more about NAAG’s campaign and how you can help: sign up to newsletters on their website

We’re not out of the woods just yet in Kent, but our branches and twigs are crossed that with your help and a little campaigning perseverance, this appeal will not succeed.

In reality, we find that an ancient wood under threat (even a wood with SSSI status, as we are seeing now with the ancient woods affected by HS2) can’t ever be considered ‘safe’ because of the loopholes in the National Planning Policy Framework. Despite the importance of ancient woodland, threats from proposals such as these at Bluebell Wood are relentless. Some developers keep submitting proposals over and over; others deny or challenge the ancient status of the woodland; others simply go ahead, submitting retrospective applications once the wood has been destroyed.

Together we can see better protection for all the UK’s precious ancient woodland – you can help by taking action in our campaign: “enough is enough…“.

Matina Loizou, Assistant Campaigner

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Sounds of Summer…

Two things struck me as I went for my usual evening walk last night. Firstly, and metaphorically, I was struck by the feeling that we are now in ‘deep summer’ as heralded by the murmuring of the combine harvester that was gliding round the next field. Secondly, and literally, I was also struck by a light ‘rain’ of early falling beech mast from the huge beech trees near my house – the seed husks opening, drying and crackling as they fell in the still warm evening sun.

Such a gentle assault on the senses, both familiar and reassuring, prompted a sense of wellbeing, of continuity, of all being right with the world … creating a reflective mood approaching what inevitably represents the quiet ‘holiday month’ of August.

The sense of hustle and bustle around our major campaign to secure better protection for our ancient woodland feels to be levelling off for the summer. Not because it’s over, but because a bit of reflection and taking stock will be useful. It won’t be long before things crank up again, buoyed up by that post-holiday boost, returning refreshed, inspired and re-invigorated. The other side of summer (no reference to Elvis Costello intended) may well see a fairly rapid descent into the ‘phoney war’ of the political party conference season and manifesto-fest, as we move towards the end of our first fixed term parliament and into the business end of the election campaign.

Early forays into manifestos have started to emerge, notably with a piece in the Guardian about the Lib Dems’ approach to the environment. Reassuringly, this includes clear reference to areas we had highlighted in earlier media campaigns and at our recent Parliamentary Reception, one that all of the main parties attended. Some of our concerns are clearly having an impact, but there is much still to do.

The impact of our Enough is Enough campaign to date has already secured us an on-going high level dialogue with Natural England. We continue to engage with them directly over key concerns on the Ancient Woodland Inventory, poor data on ancient woodland loss and the slow pace of their woodland SSSI programme.

Unfortunately, our lively one-to-one dialogue with Owen Paterson as Secretary of State for the Environment was recently curtailed by his departure from the role. So the unresolved big issues around biodiversity offsetting, poor protection for ancient woodland and ‘loopholes’ in the planning system need to be brought back to his successor, Elizabeth Truss.

But we can at least enjoy some of the glow of ‘deep summer’ reflecting on the success of our campaign to secure publication of Natural England’s much delayed revision of its advice to planning authorities dealing with applications to develop on ancient woodland. Its Standing Advice for Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees is now out in the full glare of daylight, at last. But that’s just the start, as now we are working to promote awareness of this valuable Advice, and promote its uptake and use by planning authorities across the country.

So, post-holiday, post-reshuffle, post-recess, and post-summer: how will our conversation with Liz Truss go? It will very much build on the job that we know still needs to be done to secure the special relationship between trees, woods and people that society values.
There is a growing awareness (inside and outside government) of the need to better protect our irreplaceable ancient woodland from losses to development, and to pests and diseases. To fully secure the future of the UK’s woodland requires a combined approach of protecting the irreplaceable, restoring that which is damaged and degraded, and adding new and diverse woods to our depleted landscapes.

This is the approach that we will continue to champion when meeting representatives of all the parties in our mission to create more resilient landscapes for nature and for people.

Posted in Austin's blog, Campaigning, Climate Change, Government Affairs | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

If trees could talk… Tales from the Smithy Wood picnic

One of the things I like best about working with community campaign groups is the chance it gives me to indulge my secret love of fancy dress. Ok, it’s not so secret – it’s fairly well known in the Trust that if you ever need someone to dress up, I’m your tree – but I do blame the Trust for bringing out this latent tendency: my very first week in the job I had to ‘be a tree’ twice; first as part of a presentation about campaigning in front of the entire Trust at the staff Conference, and the second time for a campaign video we did called ‘Caught in the Act’ (easily my favourite starring role to date).

So I was delighted to have a chance to don a cossie again last weekend, this time in support of local campaigners who are working so hard to defend Smithy Wood, just outside Chapeltown near Sheffield.The members of Cowley Residents Action Group are the real heroes in the long fight to save Smithy, and Sunday’s ‘Save Smithy Wood’ picnic was down to their hard work. The event was all about celebrating this valued ancient woodland, gathering local people together and learning more about its incredible history. It was a beautifully hot and sunny day, not the best weather for fancy dress to be honest and I did rather doubt my earlier enthusiasm!

Being there at the gate to welcome folks into the picnic area, I got to say hi to almost everyone who came along. A lot of them went over to the Woodland Trust’s stand where they could register their objection to the proposed development, sign our petition and find out what else they could do to help the campaign.

Local historian Professor Mel Jones gave a fascinating talk about Smithy's history

Local historian Professor Mel Jones gave a fascinating talk about Smithy’s history

We saw hundreds of people during the day. There were families with baskets and blankets who stayed all afternoon to picnic, as their children played on the swings and the giant bouncy castle and ran about having fun.

'Oak' couldn't resist a little go on the swings....

‘Oak’ couldn’t resist a little go on the swings….

I had the honour of being asked to draw the raffle! I also had the chance to visit all the stallholders to say a little thank you for being part of the day; it was wonderful to see smaller groups as well as the local Friends of the Earth and Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust represented, and also to meet members of the national Forests Campaign Network who travelled some miles to show their support.

With the South Yorkshire Badger Group

With the South Yorkshire Badger Group

My favourite part of being a ‘tree’ during an event like this is that I get to flit about, chatting to people about why they love woodland and giving out those all-important hugs! Most of the time this goes down really well, as I find that even the hardest of hearts can be melted with a smile and a hug. Some very young children are naturally shy and can even be a bit frightened when a tall thing dressed in green with strange objects sticking out all over it comes looming towards them, but once I get down to their level and they realise I’m a person dressed up, they tend to be more interested than afraid, touch the ivy in my hair and my green fingernails –and if Mum and Dad have a hug they usually want one as well.

This little one wasn't so sure!

This little one wasn’t so sure!

I took a few children over to some of the largest trees in the picnic area to identify them using the Trust’s leaf swatches. One youngster, aged 10, came over to tell me he had given one of the real trees a hug. He said “I could feel its energy. I do hope none of the woods are destroyed.” These are the inheritors of Smithy Wood, and many of them understand what could happen here. Let’s hope sense prevails and the wood will stay safe, so these children can bring their children to play in Smithy Wood and discover its magic, just like their parents do now.

‘Oak Tree’

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A future for nature?

Nature is essential for all life on Earth. Its intrinsic value should be built into humanity’s thoughts and actions, so it is not corrupted by consumer preferences.

Our view of nature

Our cultural history has shaped what we perceive to be nature and how we value it. We frequently view nature as countryside – hedgerows and coppice, grazed marshes and heath, chalk grassland and ancient parks, flower rich verges of country lanes, the stone-walled landscapes of the Dales and sunken lanes of Devon – artefacts of human management, as much nostalgia and romanticism as objective reality.

It is the loss of countryside which has exercised much of the conservation movement in Britain, or at least the loss of countryside as it was before modern agriculture.

In part we describe this loss by cataloguing the species and habitats that have declined or disappeared, resorting to scientific rationality which gives us a sense of objective detachment. But I suspect it has more to do with a loss of something more subjective. A sense of being part of a landscape and of nature, a closeness with the land which has passed or is passing.

We also view nature as protected space, though frequently no less managed than the surrounding matrix. Nature reserves have become the ‘treasured jewels’ in a hostile landscape, as the countryside of our youth and of our imagination has been lost to increasingly industrial production. In this view nature is something separate from the human landscape of agriculture and settlements. Apart and a part, held in stasis.

Knowing when to stop

Nature conservation and the natural environment more generally remains an adjunct to a system which seems bound to lead to their demise. Whilst environmental rhetoric has moved closer to centre stage, it remains as a constraint to the economic paradigm of our age.

The ecology of the planet is self-evidently necessary to support life on Earth. To surrender its future solely to the liturgy of monetary valuation is a gross conceit. It reflects a belief that economics can effectively recognise and apportion those elements of the ecosystem which we should take the trouble to conserve, and distribute them in a way which is equitable and just. We should not submit to this conceit.

The words of the 19th Century philosopher and economist John Stuart Mill have a chilling prescience:

“Nor is there much satisfaction in contemplating the world with nothing left to the spontaneous activity of nature: with every rood of land brought into cultivation, which is capable of growing food for human beings; every flowery waste of natural pasture ploughed up, all quadrupeds or birds that are not domesticated for man’s use exterminated as rivals for food, every hedgerow or superfluous tree rooted out, and scarcely a place left where a wild shrub or flower could grow without being eradicated as a weed in the name of improved agriculture. If the earth must lose that great portion of its pleasures which it owes to things that the unlimited increase in wealth and population would extirpate from it, for the mere purpose of enabling it to support a larger, but not a better or happier population, I sincerely hope, for the sake of posterity, that they will be content to be stationary, long before necessity compels them to it”.

Necessity is now upon us.

An era of solitude?

It is self-evidently true that we must draw resources from the world around, but we should do this in a way that recognises a value beyond that ascribed by consumer preference.

The contemporary philosopher John Gray sketches a vision of an apocalyptic future:

“if wild habitat is given over to human cultivation and habitation, if rainforests can be turned into green deserts, if genetic engineering enables ever-higher yields to be extorted from the thinning soils – then humans will have created for themselves a new geological era, the Eremozoic, the Era of Solitude, in which little remains of the Earth but the prosthetic environment that keeps them alive”.

More optimistically I believe, or perhaps wistfully hope, we can reconcile our place in the world. That in some great collective self-realisation we will see the delusional premises under which we strive for ever greater growth. That we will take our foot off the pedal when we see we are accelerating towards an abyss.

Citizen of the land

Let us have nature reserves and ‘wilderness’, areas where human influence is less than elsewhere, but not as a unnecessary dialectic. If it is right in describing wilderness that nature should follow a more self-determined path, that it should have intrinsic value, then it is right elsewhere. By recognising intrinsic value in nature we displace humankind from the dominant position in the ecosystem and begin to accept the limits of our knowledge and control. It is this which Aldo Leopold described in a Sand County Almanac when he called for a land ethic which would change the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.

There will be many who regard such a shift in our obligations as fanciful and naive. Maybe so, but for all the good modern progress has brought the few, it has denied the many, and has done little in which nature can rejoice. Insofar as we have knowledge and ingenuity it should be framed in a new narrative, one which acknowledges we are not immune to the rules of evolution we ascribe to the rest of nature, one which respects the ecological limits of the world in which we live and gives credence to the existence of other life.

This is more than reducing the environmental impact of economic development, or compensating its effects, to allow it to be labelled ‘sustainable’. Creating a wetland as compensation for the extension of an airport, or attempting to relocate ancient woodland so as not to impede the route of a by-pass is not sustainability. These are not commensurate values, and we fail in our obligations if we exchange nature for some fabricated measure of ‘consumer preference’.

It is both implausible and arrogant to believe we will destroy nature, but it is certain that we are corrupting its course. A future for nature is more than the satisfaction of consumer preferences. It will be shaped by our attitude to nature, our relationship with it, and an ethic which recognises the fulfilment of wider obligations.

Mike Townsend, Principal Advisor


Posted in Climate Change | 11 Comments

Power to tackle invasions

Through the proposed Infrastructure Bill, we may soon be given more means to tackle the invasive non-native species (INNS) damaging the natural environment. Along with climate change and habitat destruction, they are one of the biggest global threats to biodiversity.

Himlalayan balsam is a major UK INNS -

Himlalayan balsam is a major UK INNS –

There are around 2,000 established non-native species in Britain. Most of these are benign, causing no problems; some are even beneficial to human survival – such as crops like barley and wheat. However, a few become invasive and have serious negative consequences for the natural environment, native fauna and flora, the economy and human health.

Many organisations have worked on this issue for years; spending large amounts of time and money trying to remove INNS from habitats, or lobbying Government to do more to deal with areas such as priority pathways and supporting management efforts.

Trade is a key pathway for INNS introductions. Sometimes this is accidental, as in the case of “hitchhikers” on or in products, packaging or vessels/vehicles being transported around the world. Sometimes a species is introduced deliberately, but with little or no understanding of the potential consequences, such as rhododendron in gardens.

A key problem with many INNS is their remarkable ability to adapt to a new environment and effectively spread through it, outcompeting native species for space and resources, and reducing biodiversity. This makes it very difficult to deal with INNS once they are established and can require major collaboration between landowners to manage/eradicate species across a large land area, in order to prevent them recolonising cleared patches from unmanaged ones.

In the past there have been no powers to ensure action takes place on private land where the owner has not allowed it. This can hamper long-term management and eradication efforts, and support continued damage to the environment. It can also prevent rapid response action against invasions by new species.

The best action against INNS is to prevent them getting into Britain in the first place, the next is to rapidly eradicate any INNS before they establish many or large populations, the least effective and most expensive method is the long-term management of species once they have a good hold in the environment – the three-tiered approach of prevention, eradication and control.

Giant hogweed can cause severe skin blisters (the lady hidden among the leaves is five feet tall) - Wikicommons, Mark Nightingale

Giant hogweed can cause severe skin blisters (the lady hidden among the leaves is five feet tall) – Wikicommons, Mark Nightingale

Some positive suggestions in the Infrastructure Bill, proposed by the Law Commission after looking at the new Scottish model, are to create powers that give statutory bodies the ability to enter into Species Control Agreements with landowners. These give a fixed period in which the owner must carry out eradication or management of INNS on their land, with an outline of actions they must and must not take. The statutory body will compensate them if needed.

If the landowner does not comply within the allotted timeframe, the statutory body has the right to issue a Species Control Order, carry out the work themselves and seek compensation from said landowner for any costs.

This may finally give us the ability to tackle INNS at a landscape scale. For example, Himalayan balsam is transported downriver through catchments. Therefore, there is little use in a landowner at the bottom of a catchment working hard to eradicate it from their land if one or more upstream are not, as reinvasion can and will occur.

These powers will also help support the new EU Invasive Alien Species Regulation, due to come into force next year. However, statutory bodies like Natural England and the Environment Agency are already struggling with big financial cuts and lack of staff and resources. The Woodland Trust wants the Government to ensure these powers are not only legislated for, but they are supported and actioned so they become an effective tool against INNS.

This is a serious problem that needs concerted and efficient action to protect native fauna, flora and habitats, and the ecosystem services they provide. Find out more about INNS in the Invasive species management in woodland habitats issue of Wood Wise.

Keep up to date on other aspects of the infrastructure bill by following our blog on our website. Sign up for scrapbook now, and tag your favourite posts, authors, and categories.

Kay Haw, Conservation Team

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