No, I haven’t branched out into the property business, but was struck recently by a parallel with the world of Phil and Kirstie revealed by the Forestry Commission’s inspired changes to their woodland planting grants in England.
Our work at the Trust seeks to combine the protection and restoration of our most precious woodlands, our ancient woods, with creating new areas of native woodland that deliver real and lasting benefits for the environment, wildlife, communities and wider society. This means working ‘hands-on’, on our own sites, with others and in partnerships seeking both to make things happen directly and to shape the mechanisms that will help deliver these aspirations more widely. Increasingly, the significance of where it is possible to make more of a difference is growing – hence the focus on location.
When it comes to choosing where to put new native woods, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the whole of the world beyond our doorsteps should be treated as a blank canvas. Whilst it seems attractive to think about ‘lots more trees’ in the countryside, there are many places where our efforts need to be carefully planned; using new woods to link and join up with what is already there (making habitat networks that are more resilient and wildlife-friendly), creating new opportunities for public access close to where people live, or perhaps using new woods creatively to help tackle pressing environmental issues such as much needed improvements to air and water quality. Similarly, we need to make positive decisions where not to plant trees because important and valuable wildlife, ecological or heritage features already occupy that space!
With an average woodland cover in England of around 10% (much less than most of our well-wooded European neighbours), this does leave plenty of scope for areas in both town and country that would benefit from a woodland makeover – but not at the expense of damaging our valued and sensitive ‘period features’ and or risking undermining the foundations of a sustainable countryside.
We have been working, amongst others, to develop and promote an approach that better recognises the nature of these benefits, respects the relevant constraints, and creates opportunities to deliver on them. The new Forestry Commission planting grants in England represent a bold and very welcome step towards supporting this approach through additional targeting of their funds. Not only have they increased the basic level of planting grant, they have also allocated significant extra payments for woods that deliver on particular priority benefits: new woods that protect and enhance our most important existing woods, new woods to provide public access where it’s most needed, and new woods that will help to tackle local flooding problems or improve water quality.
There is now increasing scope for new woods to deliver more and better benefits and the new grant guidance and payments appear carefully designed to facilitate this. But let’s get back to Phil and Kirstie for a moment. They usually start out with a request for a reasonably priced 3-bed with a south facing garden, a short commute to work, in a good catchment for schools and not far from a well appointed high street – what’s the equivalent spec for your ideal new woodland?