The ‘ecosystem services’ provided to us by woods and trees and the wider natural environment are becoming increasingly recognised. These include flood alleviation, carbon sequestration and access to green space for public health - to name but a few – as well as their immense importance both for helping nature adapt to change and for making this a more attractive country in which to live. Now trees have the chance to set the tone for nature conservation policy for years to come.
The current consultation on the production of a Natural Environment White Paper is an important opportunity to place woods and trees firmly on the agenda. You have to go back to 1990 for the last time such a document was produced - and this White Paper is expected to also have a 20 year lifespan.
One of the outcomes we want to see from the White Paper is a much stronger cross-government emphasis on the natural environment. For too long the natural environment has been seen as the province exclusively of Defra when in fact it is vital to the successful delivery of a whole range of Government policy agendas. Another is to see climate change and the natural environment given more equal weighting as policy issues and tackled in a more integrated way. It is encouraging to hear the Secretary of State for Enviornment, Food and Rural Affairs, Caroline Spelman, say this too.
Woods and trees are especially strong at providing ecosystem services to society. What this means is that they are even more of a valuable investment because of their ability to deliver on so many agendas at once, at a time of great pressure on the public finances. This White Paper consultation is an important opportunity to build on the recognition of the benefits of tree planting and the value of the natural environment that was included in all the main party manifestos at the last election, and get this identified as a priority for natural environment policy over the coming decades. We need to make sure awareness translates into action and draws the resources it warrants, right across Government.
Ministers have made it clear that they want the consultation to engage as many people as possible. So, as well as submitting our own response our “Dear Defra” campaign is urging all our supporters to also get involved. The final, definitive question in the consultation asks:
‘If you could choose just one priority action for the Natural Environment White Paper to drive forward, what would it be?’
Our vision is for Government to adopt a target of doubling of native woodland cover over the next fifty years and we urge our supporters to back the call for our vision to be incorporated into the White Paper.
Thank you to the thousands of Trust members who have already taken action by sending their mesage to Defra in droves. Everyone can take part in this important national debate online too using our easy online action – the consultation closes at the end of October. This really is a chance to help ensure woods and trees truly ‘shape the nature’ of England!