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

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’

Posted in Campaigning, Climate Change | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

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 | 8 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

Posted in Conservation, Government Affairs | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Woodland and Water – a success story in Kent

 As the Woodland Trust launches its new report ‘Stemming the flow’ here is a timely guest blog from one of our Councillor Tree Champions, Cllr Tony Harwood.tony harwood

“Almost 1000 properties were affected by flooding from rivers across Kent earlier this year.

 However, against this backdrop there were small glimmers of hope. A local success story involves the River Len, a small and heavily urbanised tributary of the River Medway in Maidstone. In autumn 2000, under similar rainfall conditions, the Len had flooded commercial and residential property in Maidstone town centre.

 In 2002 the acquisition of 2.5 hectares of the River Len corridor was negotiated by Maidstone Council as environmental mitigation for a new supermarket and business park extension. Much of this land was then shrouded in concrete and littered with hundreds of used tyres and other fly-tipping. Indeed, in autumn 2000 floodwater had scudded-off the impermeable hard-standing, bringing with it tonnes of man-made debris which had blocked weirs and culverts intensifying downstream flooding.

The River Len land acquisition didn’t include funding for maintenance, so since 2002 local councillors have worked with residents, ably supported by the Council’s street cleansing service, to remove tonnes of hard-standing and fly-tipping from the site. They have also introduced management designed to benefit landscape, wildlife and local people. Relict patches of alder, crack willow and sallow carr were expanded (mainly through natural regeneration), reed and sedge beds restored, pools and marshy areas re-created and sunlit rides opened-up and maintained. In 2014 the site was officially designated as a Local Nature Reserve.

Copyright Tony HarwoodOngoing recording of flora and fauna by local people  has shown a sharp increase in both biodiversity and biomass, with uncommon native species including water vole, Desmoulins’s Whorl Snail, White-legged Damselfly and Grass Snake all flourishing in their urban environment. 

The benefits from these changes were realised just before Christmas 2013, when Kent was hit by rainfall even more severe than that of autumn 2000. This time the re-naturalised banks of the River Len behaved very differently and instead of flood water (and debris) sheeting-off of acres of hard standing, the River Len corridor, and its damp woodland and reed beds, dramatically slowed flows and held-back huge volumes of flood water and debris.

Remarkably, no properties were directly flooded in Maidstone town centre as a result of inundation by the River Len. Indeed, storm water was even pumped from the nearby, at risk, Loose Stream catchment into the River Len - and still no serious property flooding resulted.

Just imagine the damage and misery that could be averted were more of the UK’s riverside ‘flood-woodlands’ restored along our watercourses using trees and other natural features.”

View the new report: Stemming the flow.

Posted in Climate Change, Local Government, water management | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

The importance of the hole

One of the most memorable episodes of the Radio 4 comedy ‘Just A Minute’, I ever heard was a banter between Peter Jones and Kenneth Williams about the “Hole in the Donut” – which centred on the importance of the hole above the dough. It is treacherous to start explaining jokes but of course it was funny because it was true and bizarre at the same time. How can the most important element of a thing, be what is missing? How can the space in the middle be more important than the substance that surrounds it? It sounds as if that cannot be true, but it is. What makes a donut iconic is the hole in the middle, not the dough around it.

I was reminded of that joke at a recent Woodland Trust event I was hosting which engaged the construction industry in a debate about the best use of wood and trees in their projects. As Mike Townsend, a speaker at the event and former CEO of the Trust, put it best – “Good design is not just about the buildings, but about the spaces between the buildings.” In other words, it is about the hole in the middle just as much as it is about the buildings around it.

Adam Shaw with Quentin Clark, Head of Sustainability and Ethical Sourcing at Waitrose

Adam Shaw with Quentin Clark, Head of Sustainability and Ethical Sourcing at Waitrose

There is something about the properties of trees that makes them a particular consideration in developing urban resilience, and important to the way in which people respond to their surroundings.

Townsend said the very size and structure of trees means they provide shade and shelter, help reduce surface water, scour airborne pollutants, and lower ambient temperatures.

This is not wishful thinking; Townsend quoted research undertaken by the University of Manchester that has shown how trees in urban areas can dramatically reduce surface water runoff, through a combination of interception and evaporation of rainwater and increased infiltration. About two thirds of flood risk is attributed to surface water flooding, so this is no little matter.

The same research has shown how ambient and surface temperatures are lower under tree cover because of shading and cooling, resulting from the latent heat of evapotranspiration from leaves. Computer modelling has shown how, as a result of this, increasing urban green space can mitigate urban heat island effect.

Without any increase in green space, by 2050 the temperature in Manchester is projected to rise by 3oC.

Many people also make grand claims for the health and financial benefits of tree planting. In general I could not agree with them more, although I am a little dubious of the precise calculations some make about the exact savings in healthcare we can make by reducing stress and asthma in particular. But I feel strongly that proper use of trees revolutionises the way we feel, behave and live.

The way we use trees in cities is becoming increasingly important, not just for the UK, with more and more of us living in an urban environment. It is important for a growing amount of people around the world.

Urbanisation is one of the defining trends of the 21st Century. The global population exceeds 7 billion, with more than half of us living in urban areas. By 2050, there maybe nearly 10 billion of us worldwide. More than two-thirds will be urbanised.

If we are to build the urban world of the future we have to do it with an eye to letting in the rural world. That is important because a green physical environment does help calm us. As our homes and buildings remain unchanging blocks, the trees around adapt through the seasons, providing not just a change of scenery but a connection to the natural world.

The effect of this on our attitudes, health and general well-being may be hard to quantify but as the work from Manchester University showed, we can measure the way trees help mitigate the harmful effects of modern development by reducing the urban heat island effect and reducing water surface run-off.

Greening our built environment should not be an afterthought, but a central idea in the new built environment of the 21st Century. In other words, let us build the hole first and then the dough around it.

Adam Shaw – Journalist, broadcaster and Woodland Trust Ambassador

Seeing Trees Constructively was an event hosted by the Woodland Trust at Lend Lease. Its aim was to bring together key stakeholders from conservation and property development to inform and discuss the role of trees and woods in land and property development.

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

On the road again…and again…and again

There have been many gibes made about David Cameron’s desire back in 2010 to lead the ‘greenest government ever.’ However, if his detractors needed additional evidence of the failure of this grand plan to bring about concerted change, they need look no further than roads policy emanating from the Department for Transport.

Spurred on by Chancellor George Osborne – who reportedly told officials that “this is a pro-road Government” – and pushed strongly by Treasury insiders, the 2013 Spending Review announced plans for the biggest ever upgrade of our strategic road network.

Ancient woodland alongside the A21 in Kent

Ancient woodland alongside the A21 in Kent

This is no small undertaking. The Government’s new roads strategy – a £28 billion investment in roads for 2015-2021 – sees, in their own words, a “tripling of investment from today’s level to over £3 billion by 2020/21”.

For many, this drive to upgrade Britain’s road network sounds a perfectly timed solution. With an existing system many drivers would describe as frustrating – legitimately citing pinch points or potholed and damaged roads – this investment could indeed solve a catalogue of problems.

Unfortunately the signs so far are not great, particularly for the natural environment. Despite evidence showing the total volume of traffic has remained steady since 2002 and distance travelled by car drivers in England is 7% lower than in 1997[1], much of the investment is likely to go towards supporting significant road building and expansion. Indeed 52 ‘big road’ projects are waiting to be announced.

Our ancient woods and ancient trees, regularly on the frontline of these types of major infrastructure development are almost certainly set to suffer. Of the six feasibility studies (fast tracked schemes to be unveiled this autumn) we are concerned that five will cause loss or damage to ancient woods and ancient trees.

If recent cases are anything to go by, there are potentially further serious problems ahead via a soon to be created Highways Agency Company. Currently being established by the Infrastructure Bill, the Company will be charged not only with delivering the Road Investment Strategy (RIS), but with handling the environmental implications that it brings with it. So far not a single word of the current Bill addresses these environmental responsibilities or how the Company will be held to account if and when it errs. Significant questions such as how the Company will achieve Government’s ambition of no net loss of biodiversity also remain.

This move to hold decision-making on roads at arms length may well allow the Government to reduce costs while guaranteeing spending on its road building program, but we all should be aware that it will come at a cost. A clear method of environmental oversight specified within the legislation over coming months is a must and we will be working to persuade parliamentarians that this serious omission is addressed as the Bill passes through both Houses of Parliament.

Oliver Newham, Senior Campaigner – Ancient Woodland


Posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Government Affairs, Planning, Roads | Tagged , | 4 Comments

The Infrastructure Bill – what does it mean for woods and trees?

In the second of our short series of blogs about the Infrastructure Bill, our Victoria looks at some of the main elements that concern her:

Planning Changes 

As the Trust’s Planning Advisor, I skipped straight to Part 3 the ‘Planning and Land’ chapter of the new Infrastructure Bill. The Bill proposes a number of changes to the Nationally Significant Infrastructure regime, but these applications are very few and far between (think major ports, power stations and airports). It is the changes to the mainstream planning system that most interest us, as the sheer number of applications it will influence are massive – for example between January and March 2014, district level planning authorities in England decided 96,000 planning applications!

So what is the proposed change?

Well, it relates to the discharging of conditions. When planning permission is granted it is generally subject to a number of conditions. Often these are negatively worded (known as Grampian Conditions) – for example, a condition could be that development cannot commence prior to the submission and approval of a satisfactory planting and maintenance scheme. The applicant must submit the required details along with a fee to the Local Planning Authority (LPA); the LPA then has 12 weeks to sign off – or discharge – the conditions. However in reality this can take significantly longer. As a former LPA Planning Officer I know from experience that with tight statutory timescales on determining applications the discharge of conditions can often end up at the bottom of a Planning Officer’s To-Do pile.

The Infrastructure Bill introduces a mechanism for certain types of planning conditions to be deemed to be ‘discharged’ if the LPA has not notified the applicant of their decision about the condition within a set time period. The Bill sets out that there will be exceptions to this rule and that secondary legislation will be prepared to support this.

We are anxious to ensure that any proposed changes to speed up the system are not at the expense of the natural environment. We are particularly concerned that measures will be put in place that deliberately curb the use of negatively-worded conditions, such as those requiring the submission of landscaping and planting schemes prior to commencement. While conditions like these can be viewed as time consuming and can appear to be an ‘add on’ at the end of the process, they are in fact critical in ensuring sites are developed sensitively. We are also keen to ensure that the proposed changes do not deter Planning Officers from adding important conditions.

The natural environment must be considered at the heart of all planning applications and we shall be pushing for conditions relating the natural environment to be exempt from any deemed discharge measures. The current regime puts the onus on the LPA acting to expedite applications. We believe that the emphasis should instead be on developers providing as much information as possible early on up front to ensure that due and timely consideration can be given to any proposal.

Transfer of land to the Homes and Communities Agency

In addition, a more widely publicised element of the Bill is that it includes a provision for amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. This would allow land to be transferred directly from arms length bodies to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). The HCA would then be charged with releasing land for development in an attempt to free up more land for housing.

The Woodland Trust is very concerned about the potential implications of this element of the Bill. We are pushing hard for an amendment that recognises that not all land is appropriate for development. In particular it will be important to see exemptions for designated sites and irreplaceable habitats including ancient woodland. We are also calling for an exemption for the Public Forest Estate as without a Forestry Bill the nation’s forests remain vulnerable.

There will be more about other aspects of the Infrastructure Bill on our blog.

Victoria Bankes Price, Planning Adviser

Posted in Climate Change, Government Affairs, Planning, Protection | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments