Will the veterans have their day?

A big decision faces Nottingham City Council’s planning committee this afternoon. Do they approve the University of Nottingham’s plan for a new £2-3 million sports centre as it is?

On the face of it, it sounds an easy decision. New investment, an “international level” sports facility and additional space for exercise and recreation. Everyone wins. Except they don’t.

If this proposal gets the go-ahead, it would mean the end of the road for three veteran oak trees, estimated to be between 200-450 years old that are currently (literally) standing in the way of the new facility.

Two of the veteran oak trees under threat from the new sports centre development.

Two of the veteran oak trees under threat from the new sports centre development.

What’s the issue?

The University of Nottingham expanded into the University Park campus, land given as a gift by local entrepreneur Jesse Boot (of ‘Boots’ legacy), in 1928. The surrounding area comes with a plentiful history of ancient mediaeval deer park, woodland and veteran tree cover, with neighbouring Wollaton Hall even forming the southern extreme of the original Sherwood Forest.

The University embraced their new location, establishing links with the local Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, winning Green Flag after Green Flag and were even named the “most environmentally friendly campus worldwide” in 2013.

Unfortunately none of this heritage and good work has stopped the University putting in a planning application for a new sport centre that would destroy three veteran oak trees.

What would David do?

It’s important to appreciate the value of ancient and veteran trees. Thousands of species depend on them to survive. The older the tree, the better the quality of wildlife associated with it. Because of the general scarcity of these trees in the countryside, many of the species that depend on them feature in Red Data lists and are nationally rare.

The Oakbug Milkcap, one of numerous fungi that thrive with veteran oak trees.

The Oakbug Milkcap, one of numerous fungi that thrive with veteran oak trees.

These three trees in question are veteran oaks. They stand within 500m of four ancient trees, each representing the future and offering the closest potential replacement habitat for any rare species associated with decaying wood habitat, aging bark and old root systems.

Indeed, wildlife expert Sir David Attenborough, who holds an honorary degree from the University, has this to say:

Ancient trees are precious. There is little else on Earth that plays host to such a rich community of life within a single living organism.’

We haven’t been able to reach Sir David, but we’d love to know how he feels about the University’s plans.

The Council’s planning committee has a very important decision to make tonight: to determine if the loss of these trees is outweighed by the gain of a new sports centre.

It doesn’t have to be this way!

Details contained within the planning application show that the building of the sports centre could go ahead without the loss of these trees. All it would take is the reduction in the number of badminton courts currently proposed, from 20 to 16.

Of course the University doesn’t want to alter its plans and delay getting the new building up and running. But if it thinks about the devastating loss that would be caused, is it really too much to ask?

We’re lobbying both the planning committee and University of Nottingham’s Vice Chancellor, David Greenaway, to make the right decision, and save these trees. Let’s hope sense and reason prevails.

In the meantime, why not sign up to support our campaign to give all trees of special national interest greater protection and recognition via our VITrees campaign.

*Update* The planning committee just voted 7-6 to save the trees! Thank you all for the support. More to follow.

Party political views and opinions as expressed in comments do not represent the views or opinions of the Woodland Trust, which is a non-partisan conservation charity. We encourage open debate. However, responsibility for comments made lies solely with individual contributors.
Posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Consultation, England, Local Government, Planning, Planting, Protection, woods, Woods Under Threat, WoodWatch | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Nature is good for us – time to return the favour

Good news this week – more people in England are getting out into nature and more recognise and feel the health benefits this offers. But while people clearly value nature, they are not necessarily willing (or able) to take positive action to protect it.

The fifth annual report from the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey shows 58 per cent of adults in England claim to visit the outdoors at least once a week. With a total of 2.93 billion visits between March 2013 and February 2014.

The only way is up

Visits have increased significantly since the first year of the survey in 2009, when around half of people claimed to visit the outdoors at least once a week – the increase is most marked in towns and cities. There was also a more than 10 per cent increase in the number of people reporting that visits were motivated by health or exercise, and more people reporting they felt refreshed and revitalised by the visit.

This is encouraging at a time when so much media coverage is focused on a National Health Service under strain. For some time there has been abundant evidence of the benefits of outdoor activity and natural settings for physical and mental health and well-being, and of the potential savings this could bring in terms of health spending.

Despite this evidence, there was less understanding of how much and in what way people were engaging with natural green spaces. The MENE survey was commissioned by Natural England, Defra and the Forestry Commission to address this, and could provide powerful data in future to measure the effectiveness of policy shifts towards simple and cost effective public health measures involving outdoor access.

Issues still to address

People who are elderly, poor, disabled, or of black and minority ethnic origin are less likely to have taken a visit to the natural environment. The reasons for this are complex, but people who do get outdoors highlight the importance of having high quality green space near where they live, and this is likely to be at least one of the limiting factors.

Woods and forests are the third most frequently visited areas after urban parks and cycle ways or paths. But Woodland Trust analysis shows only 18 per cent of people have access to a wood at least 2ha in size within easy walking distance of their homes.

Ideally, we’d like everyone to have the opportunity to access woodland near their homes. While all green space is valuable, the complex physical structure and biological diversity of woods gives them a special appeal. They can absorb large numbers of people, provide diverse opportunities for exercise and play, and inspire a sense of wonder and curiosity about the natural world.

Love it or lose it

While people may be starting to recognise the value of the natural environment for their own health, this is not necessarily translating into an urge to protect it.

MENE shows that more than 90 per cent of people recognise the value of nature and the importance of having green spaces near to them. But far fewer took positive action to protect the environment through their consumer or lifestyle choices, and very few (less than 10 per cent) were willing to give time or money to make a positive difference.

Despite what we might think, it is not clear whether visiting natural spaces more, and thus getting closer to nature, actually engenders more concern for it, or inspires people to take action. That’s a challenging thought, and it is hoped MENE might be able to address these questions further in future surveys.

We have a number of campaigns running at the moment, please help us protect nature: http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/campaigning/campaigns/

Sian Atkinson, Senior Conservation Advisor

Party political views and opinions as expressed in comments do not represent the views or opinions of the Woodland Trust, which is a non-partisan conservation charity. We encourage open debate. However, responsibility for comments made lies solely with individual contributors.
Posted in Climate Change, Protection | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Highways England – what’s that?

Ever heard of HS2 Ltd? Why yes, you say – it’s that company in charge of building the country’s second high speed railway straight through some of our most precious habitats and threatening, at latest count, 83 ancient woods.

How about Highways England? Perhaps not. This is a company being set up by the Government – courtesy of the Infrastructure Bill currently going through parliament. It will be responsible for delivering the Government’s new £15 billion road building programme – the Roads Investment Strategy (RIS).

Highways England has flown very much under the radar until now. But from April the company will control vast sums of taxpayers’ money, and will begin delivering a countrywide programme of upgrades to our major road network.

A mass road building programme – the Roads Investment Strategy - was announced in December 2014 which could see further loss of ancient woods and trees, like the 9ha condemned in the A21 widening near Tonbridge last year.

A mass road building programme – the Roads Investment Strategy – was announced in December 2014 which could see further loss of ancient woods and trees, like the 9ha condemned in the A21 widening near Tonbridge last year.

Why does it matter? 

Highways England is being created at a hurtling pace – to a timescale those working on the HS2 project can only dream about.

This has led to concerns across the environmental NGO sector and among some MPs that there could be serious oversights and omissions, particularly related to the requirements and limitations under which it will operate.

Indeed as an arms length public body, ensuring that comprehensive standards on environmental protection are enshrined within the company from the outset is a must.

What is the Woodland Trust doing?  

At the Trust we have been working to influence a number of crucial areas, including the licence Highways England will operate under, as well as its Watchdog (called Passenger Focus) and Monitor (run by the Office of Rail Regulation).

Despite much of the next Roads Investment Strategy focusing on upgrading the existing motorway network, we are concerned that over 30 schemes threaten ancient woods and trees.

Despite much of the next Roads Investment Strategy focusing on upgrading the existing motorway network, we are concerned that over 30 schemes threaten ancient woods and trees.

So far, we’ve seen some welcome developments, including a new section of the draft licence that focuses on the environmental requirements and responsibilities of Highways England. Before we, and others, got involved, this was entirely absent. But we still have substantial concerns, particularly around the RIS itself.

The focus of this is ostensibly on upgrading the existing motorway network, but according to our analysis, as many as over 30 new road building schemes threaten ancient woods and trees.

What next? 

Just before Christmas, Highways England published a strategic business plan for 2015-2020. It includes promises to produce a delivery plan containing better environmental outcomes, as well as a biodiversity action plan by June 2015. In addition, £300 million of the total spend has been ring-fenced for the environment  – some yet to be allocated – which leaves much opportunity for influence.

One may wonder about the need for this approach while the company is still being shaped, as opposed to simply responding to planning applications and consultations as they arise. But a look at the first road consultation on our radar in relation to this new spend already shows three sections of ancient woodland under threat from the bulldozer. Much more still to do.

Option C (the yellow route)of the M54-M6 road building scheme would cut directly through two quadrants of Burn’s Wood and impact on Spring Coppice too. Both are ancient woods.

Option C (the yellow route) of the M54-M6 road building scheme would cut directly through two quadrants of Burn’s Wood and impact on Spring Coppice too. Both are ancient woods.

Party political views and opinions as expressed in comments do not represent the views or opinions of the Woodland Trust, which is a non-partisan conservation charity. We encourage open debate. However, responsibility for comments made lies solely with individual contributors.
Posted in Climate Change, England, Government Affairs, Protection, Roads, Woods Under Threat, WoodWatch | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

In Dulci Jubilo…

WTPL/VisitWoods

WTPL/VisitWoods

As we approach the festive break, I’m “in sweet rejoicing” to report the delivery of one present on my Christmas List – the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee has supported our call for greater protection for ancient woodland in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Starting in April, the CLG Committee undertook a thorough investigation into how the NPPF has influenced development since its publication, and this week published a hard-hitting but constructive report  on how the NPPF can be strengthened. I gave evidence in June on how the environment, in particular ancient woodland, has fared, and the Committee pulled no punches in its questioning.

So it fills me with cheer to note that the Committee has taken on board our evidence stating that “We agree that ancient woodland should be protected by the planning system. Woodland that is over 400 years old cannot be replaced and should be awarded the same level of protection as our built heritage.

CLG Recommendations

The Committee has, at our behest, made a specific recommendation: “We recommend that the Government amend paragraph 118 of the NPPF to state that any loss of ancient woodland should be “wholly exceptional”.” This would bring ancient woodland up to the level of protection afforded to Grade 1 Listed buildings.

Furthermore the Committee has recommended “that the Government initiate work with Natural England and the Woodland Trust to establish whether more ancient woodland could be designated as sites of special scientific interest and to consider what the barriers to designation might be.” This is one of our key asks in our Enough is Enough campaign.

Sustainable development

While the Committee shares the Government’s desire for growth, it still recognises the need for equal importance to be given to the natural environment, and I particularly liked the first bullet point (of only four) in the summary at the beginning of the report:

First, we must take steps to ensure that the planning system delivers the sustainable development promised in the NPPF. We should ensure that the same weight is given to the environmental and social as to the economic dimension; that permission is only given to development if accompanied by the infrastructure necessary to support it; and that the planning system places due emphasis on the natural environment.

What next?

The Government will, in the New Year, issue a formal response to the CLG Committee Report. We hope the clear and constructive recommendations will be taken up, and we would like to see a timetable for when the changes to the NPPF will be made. We firmly believe that given the cross-party nature of the Committee (agreement on the report was unanimous, said the Chair, Clive Betts MP) and the widespread recognition of ancient woodland’s importance, whichever party is in power should be ready to act on these recommendations. So I feel that we can end 2014 with one good present for the festive season courtesy of the CLG Committee, but I hope that increasing protection for ancient woodland will be in the Government’s and all parties’ lists of New Year resolutions…

Richard Barnes, Senior Conservation Adviser

Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Guest post: National Trust

There are no more than a handful of ancient tree specialists in the UK. These passionate folk can talk with real knowledge about these incredible organisms. We’re fortunate at the Woodland Trust to have Jill Butler to teach and inspire us. At the National Trust, which cares for more ancient trees on its estate than any other non-government organisation in Europe, Brian Muelaner played a similar role. We’re very pleased to welcome a guest blog from Brian about our nationally significant trees, also known as ‘V.I.Trees':

“The National Trust has recorded about 35,000 Very Important Trees (formally known as Trees of National Special Interest), with another 10,000 or so still to record and it may well own more ‘V.I.Trees’ than any other private owner in Europe.

Are all these spectacular trees safe for future generations to enjoy?

As the very recently retired Ancient Tree Adviser for the National Trust, I am well informed to say “NO”, not even within the Trust are these internationally important trees truly protected.

I will quickly say that all of the real jewels in the Trust’s crown are safe. Trees like Newton’s apple, the very tree Sir Isaac Newton sat beneath at his family home at Woolsthorpe Manor when he contemplated his theory on gravity; or the Ankerwycke yew opposite Runneymede which many believe is where the beginning of democracy began with the sealing of the Magna Carta in 1216; or the Tolpuddle Martyr’s tree under which the first ever trade union began.

Many more still are at risk

The thousands of special trees that live in parklands or farmland managed by tenant farmers are at greatest risk. Unfortunately the National Trust is often helpless to force the tenants to manage the land in ways favourable for the trees. Some forms of historic tenancies last for three generations and the landowner cannot alter the conditions of the tenancy during this whole period.

If these trees enjoyed legal status, much like listed buildings, then there would be a legal onus on farmers to ensure they didn’t damage them through their agricultural activities. Without this status the trees are at the mercy of the farming practice taking place around them.

Under the roots

All trees have a symbiotic relationship with mycorrhizal fungi which live beneath the ground and connect directly to their fine feeder roots. The fungi are far better at extracting water and the basic raw elements needed for growth such as nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus from the soil through their far more extensive network of hyphae. The mycorrhizal fungi share the nutrients and water with the trees’ roots, passing them up through the roots, up the trunk and branches to the leaves, where the tree can convert these basic elements into complex sugars and carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Fungi have no chlorophyll so are unable to utilise the sun’s energy through photosynthesis. The tree then passes a share of these newly created carbohydrates, such as sugar, to the fungi so both organisms benefit from the exchange. These fungi also protect the tree from pathogens invading the tree through its semi-porous root hairs, not wanting the tree providing it with high energy food to be harmed.

There are many modern farming activities which damage this relationship and reduce the life of trees. Growing crops like wheat or barley require high concentrations of inputs such as pesticides to kill off weed growth and fertilisers to increase yields, both of which damage the mycorrhizal community below the surface. Often the tree’s roots are also physically damaged by ploughing beneath the crown of the tree.

Image: courtesy of Brian Muelaner

Image: courtesy of Brian Muelaner

Above the ground

Even in pastures which are grazed by cattle and or sheep the trees can be inadvertently damaged through inappropriate activity such as overgrazing in wet months when the soil can become a mud bath.

Image: courtesy of Brian Muelaner

Image: courtesy of Brian Muelaner

Horses will often strip the bark off the lower part of the tree allowing decay fungi access into the functional sapwood of the tree which damages the tree’s ability to transport nutrients and water.

Image: courtesy of Brian Muelaner

Image: courtesy of Brian Muelaner

What could make a difference?

If these trees had formal recognition as being nationally important for their biodiversity, landscape enhancement, heritage associations or interpretation of the historic landscape, then damaging farming practices would not be tolerated.

Brian Muelaner. Image: National Trust

Brian Muelaner. Image: National Trust

At present all of these activities take place across the country, even on land owned by a conservation organisation like the National Trust and it may take a public outcry to influence our government to do something meaningful about this tragedy.”

Brian Muelaner

You can help give Very Important Trees the VIP status these living monuments deserve – please show your support for a register of nationally important trees.

Posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Conservation | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

Guest post: Ancient Tree Forum

Our long partnership with Ancient Tree Forum has involved a fascinating exploration into the UK’s incredible tree heritage. We are pleased to welcome Hannah Solloway, Development Officer at the Ancient Tree Forum, as a guest blogger, to talk about how the V.I.Trees campaign links it all together:

“The Ancient Tree Forum (ATF) held its autumn field visit at Newnham Park near Plymouth. The site was described by our local Devon group as ‘a real gem of the South West’, with its many distinctive and wonderful ancient oaks, and yet the trees on this site, like many others, are not formally recognised and have little or no specific protection in law.

The Woodland Trust’s Very Important Trees campaign supports the work of the ATF and the Tree Council in calling for the establishment of national registers to record, and to help celebrate and protect our nationally important and best-loved trees.

A register would give recognition and status to nationally significant trees like those at Newnham Park.

Ancient tree measuring at Newnham Park. Image: courtesy Hannah Solloway

Ancient tree measuring at Newnham Park. Image: courtesy Hannah Solloway

Image: courtesy Hannah Solloway

Image: courtesy Hannah Solloway

Why exactly are these trees so important?

The Ancient Tree Forum is a small charity which promotes the importance, care and protection of Britain’s ancient and other veteran trees. We seek to secure the long term future of ancient and other veteran trees and we value them in their own right, for qualities including their unique and characterful individual forms, their beauty, sheer size, and distinctive features like gnarled bark and hollowed trunks.

Connections with history

We also value our older trees for their connection with history, and recognise that they are often relics of former land-use and distinctive landscapes. Frequently, they are now found outside woodlands, in deer parks and country estates like Newnham Park, in hedgerows and even in cities.

Some individual trees are important to local communities as familiar landmarks, like the ‘lonely tree’ at Llanfyllin. So important is this Scots pine that when blown over by high winds, hundreds of locals rallied to cover its broken roots with tons of earth so that it will hopefully carry on living.

Other trees provide links to past generations of people who lived and worked among them, like the Tolpuddle Martyrs Tree in Dorset which witnessed the formation of the first trade union, or the pollarded willows of the fenlands which were working trees, used for basket-making.

Survivors over centuries

A further value of ancient and veteran trees is that they have often tolerated and adapted to past stresses and changing circumstances.

As survivors they have demonstrated resilience and longevity, and therefore can be seen as an important genetic resource. They can help us understand the process of aging in trees, and should be valued as some of the oldest living organisms on earth.

Givers of life

And of course old trees are vital for supporting biodiversity through providing numerous habitats for wildlife, particularly the specialised and rare organisms which have co-evolved with them and are dependent upon them for their survival. The bark of ancient and veteran trees can host rare lichens, their hollows often provide roosting and nesting places for bats and birds, and decaying wood supports a suite of specialist insects.

At Newnham Park, we saw plenty of fungi associated with older trees, like the key heartwood-hollowing bracket fungi Beefsteak (Fistulina hepatica), Chicken-of-the-Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus) and the much scarcer Hen-of-the-woods (Grifola frondosa). Amongst the beetles spotted by our invertebrate expert was the flat bark beetle (Pediacus dermestoides) which is rare across much of its European range, but likes the cool and damp conditions of Southern Britain.

So why are they not officially recognised?

Our trees are not recognised in the same way that buildings, ancient monuments or historic parks and gardens are. One reason is that ancient and veteran trees are not systematically surveyed or mapped (as ancient woodlands are) and can therefore be overlooked and undervalued. Damage, threats and losses may go unnoticed, diminishing this already scarce heritage.

Whilst the Ancient Tree Inventory, a citizen science database, holds data on many important trees there are a great many that are not yet listed in the Inventory; for example it wasn’t until the ATF’s visit to Newnham, when local recorders had access to the site, that data was recorded about its ancient oaks.

There is also a common misconception that our ancient and veteran trees are protected by Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs). In reality these powers are rarely used outside urban areas or where there is no known threat, and councils are not obliged to use them. Most TPOs are made when trees are threatened by development – if that threat is known in advance. For councils to use the power, trees are also expected to have amenity value which can be interpreted as a requirement for public visibility.

It is a stated aim of the Ancient Tree Forum that there should be no further avoidable loss of ancient trees. To prevent further loss, we need to ensure trees are protected from harmful activities like inappropriate pruning and root damage, and are prevented from being cut down, or killed through shading by other trees.

We also need to make sure there is positive, sympathetic management of trees and their surroundings, as detailed in our book ‘Ancient and other veteran trees: further guidance on management’. These trees are vulnerable and may have specific needs. This may require costly, specialist care, and we would like to see grants or rewards being made available to landowners for good management, in order to avoid neglect of or unintentional harm to this irreplaceable part of our national heritage.

Ultimately, we believe our ancient and veteran trees should have the same recognition, protection and care as our historic buildings.

Learn more with the ATF

Hannah Solloway of the Ancient Tree Forum

Hannah Solloway of the Ancient Tree Forum

For more information about the Ancient Tree Forum, details of our next field visit (in March 2015, focusing on ancient and veteran orchards and fruit trees) and to sign up for our newsletter contact us at enquiries@ancienttreeforum.co.uk.”

Hannah Solloway

You can help give Very Important Trees the VIP status these living monuments deserve – please show your support for a register of nationally important trees.

Posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Conservation | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Congratulations to the Major Oak

The Major Oak is the 2014 ‘Tree of the Year’ in England.

I was pleased to join our Head of Campaigning, Nikki Williams, on a visit to the Major Oak in its famous forest home. We presented staff from Sherwood Forest County Park with a certificate from the Trust, confirming the tree’s accolade.

Winner!  Woodland Trust Head of Campaigning, Nikki Williams, presents the award certificate to members of the Sherwood Forest Trust, who accept the 'Tree of the Year' accolade on behalf of the Major Oak. L-R:  Nikki Williams,

WINNER!!!
Woodland Trust head of campaigning, Nikki Williams, with staff from Sherwood Forest Country Park who accepted the ‘Tree of the Year’ accolade on behalf of the Major Oak.
L-R: Charleen Case, Jed Clampett, Adrian Grieve, Nikki Williams, Izi Banton

The Competition

Over the summer we asked for nominations for an individual tree with a story. It was hard to compile a shortlist of ten but once we had our list we asked the public to choose their favourite.

The response was fantastic! Nearly 13,000 people cast votes in just eight days and the competition received great coverage all over the press and on social media too. The Major Oak took nearly 20% of the vote. This wonderful ancient tree, synonymous with myth and legend, will now represent England in the next phase of the competition. It joins trees from 13 other European countries which could be crowned ‘European Tree of the Year’.

It was great to meet the staff, whose enthusiasm for the contest clearly matched the public’s. Over the past few months it has been heart-warming to see how much love there is for special, old trees and such a simple idea to choose a favourite has really captured everyone’s imagination.

Thanks to everyone who voted!

You can help our special trees

Our V.I.Trees campaign, in partnership with Country Living magazine, needs you…

We want to see a national register for Trees of Special Interest like the Major Oak. Trees like these are markers of history, living monuments. They deserve to be recognised and valued for the contribution they make to our culture and heritage – just as our listed buildings are.

We are asking the Environment Ministers in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to consider developing a register. They have all said they will progress the idea if we can prove it’s important to the public, too.

We hope that by raising awareness of the UK’s ancient and veteran trees through campaigns like these, we can ensure they have a secure future and will be enjoyed by future generations too. The love we’ve seen you demonstrate for your trees shows how valued they are – please show your support for a register of trees of national importance.

Chris Hickman, Press Officer

Posted in Campaigning, Climate Change | Tagged , , | 6 Comments