A cut too far

Councils are facing difficult choices, but slashing tree planting budgets should not be one of them. 

At this time of year, councillors and senior officers in local authorities go into “budget mode”. Councils have to agree how much they are going to spend over the next year… both for ongoing revenue expenditure and investment in capital projects. They also have to set the level of council tax for local residents for the year ahead. 

A big proportion of council funding comes from Government grant. The funding formula  is fiendishly complicated and has changed again this year. There has always been pressure for budget savings but now things have moved into a different league. As part of the Government’s programme to cut the country’s budget deficit, grants to local authorities are being cut by around 28 per cent over a four year period.  

A report from the Local Government Association last year estimated that when unavoidable budget pressures in adult social care and waste management are taken into account, other council budgets may have to be cut by up to 66 per cent by the end of the decade. 

Against this background what hope have we of persuading councils to put money into tree planting and woodland creation? Surely trees are a liability… a luxury that can be afforded in prosperous times but one which must (literally) face the chop when times get hard? 

Actually this conventional wisdom is not  supported by the available evidence.  

Trees can deliver a range of benefits much more cost effectively than other solutions.  For example, in periods of hot weather (yes we do have them sometimes!), trees can significantly reduce urban temperatures. A study by the University of Manchester has shown that increasing tree cover in urban areas by 10% could decrease the expected maximum surface temperature in the 2080s by up to 4°C.    

Trees can help alleviate flooding and improve water quality much more cheaply than conventional hard engineering solutions.   

Trees can deliver massive economic benefits. The North West Forestry Manifesto estimates that the region employs 69,000 people in timber and forest related industries, worth £435m. 

Trees or Turf? Councils can save money by planting trees

Trees or Turf? Councils can save money by planting trees

And Councils can save money too. Our recent “Trees or Turf” report shows clearly that creating woodland on urban greenspace can significantly cut  management costs, by reducing the need for grass cutting. The Forestry Commission is currently offering quite generous grant aid for woodland creation in England…. up to £4,800 a hectare in priority areas. The Woodland Trust also has various schemes available to support councils and private landowners with smaller areas of planting.

To get maximum benefit, councils should plan carefully and adopt the doctrine of “the right tree in the right place.” Large forest trees may be ok in parks but in streets or housing areas smaller growing species may be more appropriate. When planning new housing areas,  councils should look to integrate trees and small wooded areas into a well planned network of greenspace.  Where councils are adopting the new Community Infrastructure Levy,  they should ensure that funding is made available for green infrastructure, including woodland.

Make your mark.

The best councils consult local people about budget priorities and ask their views on budget proposals. Why not have a look on your council’s website and see if they are running a budget consultation?  They need to know that you want more trees and woods in your area. If there’s no consultation, make sure you tell them anyway!

And tell them it needn’t cost the earth …but could make a big difference to your local environment. 

Nick Sandford , Regional and Local Government Officer (North East and North West England). Nick is also a city councillor in Peterborough.

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About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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17 Responses to A cut too far

  1. Tony says:

    Exactly TPB.

    When these politicians weigh up long-term conservation against short-term political gain, do you believe they even live in the same world as us. Every time, they will always look for the cheapest option. Living in a sustainable environment and helping cure this planet of its ills is far more important than any short-term money saving, based on a political whim.

  2. I do believe someone stated it before I did, it will take centuries and decades before the trees we plant today will effectively do the job of the ones we’re chopping down now.

    -Samudaworth Tree Service

  3. Could we have reached a point in history in which we can no longer afford to be stewards of the earth? I wonder.

  4. Pingback: A cut too far « Wood Elf Weekly

  5. anthony mills says:

    “Large forest trees may be ok in parks but in streets or housing areas smaller growing species may be more appropriate.” I thought we were supposed to be moving on from the risk-averse planting of ”lolipop” small trees in urban areas? It is only the forest size trees that can provide that shade, that co2 uptake and o2 output, that overarching canopy that puts us in our place and provides the proper scale to our buildings and silly, busy, temporary works….

  6. Pingback: A cut too far | Conservation & Environment | Scoop.it

  7. Iain says:

    It is with sadness that I am unsuscribing from this email stream. I receive so many emails from you it is impossible to read them or frankly even skim them. Less you know is more. You need I fear to be more focused

    All the best

    Iain Rousham

    Sent from my iPad

  8. Alex Jones says:

    It would be good that community groups rather than councils decide on where trees should be planted. There are grant schemes available for tree planting. Local knowledge is always better than a centralised decision making system by officers with limited knowledge of the where and what of communities.

    • Nick Sandford says:

      Hi Alex,

      You are so right. When Woodland Trust creates woodland, we usually seek involvement from the local community both in planning the planting scheme and also planting the trees.

      The Localism Act has given new powers for parish councils and community groups to develop neighbourhood plans, in which they can say what they would like to see in their local area. We hope many local communities will want to plant trees and create woodland to improve their local areas and we have produced some online support materials to help them do this.

      http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/en/campaigning/woodwatch/neighbourhoodplanning/Pages/default.aspx

  9. Whilst the sound bite “A cut too far” sounds devastating there is far more to successful tree establishment than merely planting and it may be no bad thing that there’s a moratorium on planting new stock, much of which will have been sourced in Europe and may well introduce the hazard of new pest and disease.

    Without doubt resources need to be allocated post-planting to ensure maintenance is adequate to allow newly planted trees to establish and thrive (without hazard to their ecosystem), but by involving the volunteer community the financial commitment may be quite modest whilst the value in kind, the volunteers’ hours and toil, may be huge.

    Remember “Plant a Tree in ‘73” and what followed? “Plant some more in ‘74” because the first crop failed to thrive.

    • Nick Sandford says:

      Hi Jonathan, Of course you are right that thought needs to be given to ongoing management of newly planted trees and woods. But England has one of the lowest levels of woodland cover in Europe, so it’s also important to plant more trees and create woods in appropriate locations.

      Grant aid may be available from the Forestry Commission for woodland management and, as we show in our Trees or Turf report, woods planted on amenity grassland in urban areas can actually reduce a Council’s overall management costs. And of course, as you point out, getting local volunteers involved can be a highly cost effective alternative.

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