Woodland needs our protection if we are to have a country fit for champions

This summer of sport has given us all plenty to celebrate, with a record haul of medals for Team GB at London 2012 and the recent announcement that over 100,000 people have signed up to volunteer at sports clubs and schools in a bid to keep the spirit of the Games alive.  London 2012 was an unparalleled success in inspiring many more young people to take up sport and leisure activities.

Image: commissioned by emda (click to enlarge)

Two national treasures: bronze medal winner Sam Oldham in front of the Major Oak

Talk has now rightly turned to legacy, and the need to harness this inspiration to ensure that we can deliver the champions of the future.  

Following the success of the games focus quickly turned to access to sporting facilities, with considerable attention given to the need to retain school playing fields. The Education Secretary has particularly been in line for some very negative press over the sale of playing fields and for endorsing a policy which places remaining fields under the threat of future development. Indeed, over the past four days alone almost 90 thousand people have signed a petition which asks Government to reverse this policy.  

We believe that all green space needs to be protected if we are to deliver future sporting success and a country truly fit for champions. And let’s be honest! Most of us who can never aspire to an Olympic medal could do with being a bit fitter as well. Our forests and woods play a particularly crucial role in supporting a wide range of sports and leisure activities – from running, walking, cycling and much more. The public forest estate is actually the single largest provider of outdoor leisure and recreation in England and needs to be cherished and protected for future generations. Furthermore, our trees and forests also provide a wide range of health benefits for the whole population. International evidence has shown that access to trees helps tackle physical and mental ill-health, improves childhood fitness, and people living in areas with high levels of greenery are 40% less likely to be overweight or obese. 

The Trust is keen to widen these clear health benefits much further beyond the 14.5% of the population who currently live within 500m of a wood. Image: WTPLWe fully endorse the recommendation within the Independent Forestry Panel’s final Report for Government to significantly increase the number of people having access to forests within close proximity of their home. This is one policy area we would like to see Government take real leadership on in its full response to the Panel Report, expected in January 2013.  

The other big story dominating the headlines over the past few weeks has been the debate on what choices Government needs to take to deliver economic growth. A number of commentators have noted that the centre piece of the expected Governments reforms will be a new Economic Regeneration Bill to replace the now defunct Lords Reform bill.  It is rumoured by many that a key element of the Bill will be a further relaxation of planning regulations in a bid to drive forward a range of major infrastructure projects and increase aviation capacity.  Government has provided no clues to what the bill will look like but has come out to provide reassurance that the Green Belt would not be under threat from any future legislation, following concerns raised by CPRE (Campaign to Protect Rural England). 

We believe that the barriers to economic regeneration including housing provision are not due to faults in our planning system; there are much bigger and more complex forces at work here such as a lack of public investment and low demand due to weaknesses in the availability of bank financing and mortgages.  We will continue to strongly oppose any policies that place forests and woods at further risk and will be watching the development of the Economic Regeneration Bill with great interest. We will also be proactively working to keep pressure on Government to implement the recommendations of the Independent Panel Report, thus ensuring that forests and woodland can play their crucial role in supporting and developing the health and well being of all us, champions or otherwise. 

Steve Mulligan, Government Affairs Officer

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About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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6 Responses to Woodland needs our protection if we are to have a country fit for champions

  1. Pingback: Community Right to Bid | Woodland Matters

  2. D. Greenwood says:

    Hi Steve,

    One recent article about relaxing the protection of the Green Belt made me realise something. There has been a change in opinion of the past 12 months about housing. It is not merely the opinion of those pioneering the NPPF, but Old Labour writers such as Polly Toynbee, that the way out of recession is to, in her words, ‘Build, build, build’.

    The notion here is that there is no space left in the urban landscape for people to live and so opinion has set on the open landscape. The problems here are educational as well as economic. I spend a lot of time in a woodland which is ancient/secondary and I would estimate that at least 70% of visitors have no notion of the biodiversity that exists there, let alone that it’s a Local Nature Reserve or Site of Metropolitan Importance for Nature Conservation. This is complicated further by issues of trampling and dog fouling leading to problems soil erosion and enrichment and consequential loss of species, as I am sure you are aware.

    In many ways, the lack of understanding of the actual life of the land is what causes many problems with protection. So much of the land is seen as wasted land, where nothing lives.

    The central problem is explaining that we are a species dependent on the wider health of the other inhabitants of our environment – wildlife. Perhaps this would result in sustainable co-existence with Green Belt land in future, with working woodlands and land farmed in the “old way”, rather than the agri-deserts which make up common farming practice today and has seen farmland birds decline by 300million since the 1980s. Heck, it might even create jobs.

    At this point, the case of people walled-up in cities and eyeing up the “open” countryside as a way to create economic growth (which currently reads – environmental degradation) is not going to be to anyone’s benefit in the long-term.

    Many thanks!

    • Steve Mulligan says:

      Hi Daniel
      Many thanks for your comments. I especially liked your notion about the need for sustainable co-existence.

      You may be interested in the report published by the CPRE yesterday which estimates that the Green Belt is currently under threat from bids to build over 81,000 houses, whilst there is enough brownfield land available to build 1.5 million new homes. Go to http://www.cpre.org.uk/media-centre/latest-news-releases/item/3019-government-needs-to-honour-pledge-to-protect-the-green-belt

      As an aside, I love the photos on your website (especially Hoverfly!).

      Steve

      • D. Greenwood says:

        Thanks for the link Steve. Very interesting.

        Indeed, sometimes you have to ask the question, with the Thames Estuary proposal and agitations towards Green Belt land – what is actually protected?

        There also seems to be an uneasy relationship here between developers and ‘green’ land. If a house or houses are built in a place which is ‘naturally’ beautiful then that will surely increase the value and appeal of the home. We see over and over again in advertising that natural images – flowers, trees, pasture – are one of the main selling points of many products or developments, often ones which will actual harm the environment. Hence the affectionate names such as ‘Wood Park Avenue’ for yet more urban sprawl.

        And thanks for the photo comments.

        Daniel

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