Should Defra be REDD in the face?

I do wonder sometimes whether the Government understands the concept of irony. This week, the Department of Energy and Climate Change announced $280 million of  UK, US and Norwegian support for protecting and conserving the world’s forests at COP19 in Warsaw, through REDD (a United Nations-sponsored project aimed at Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation in developing countries). Yet Defra says it is unable to fund any new woodland expansion or management grants in England until 2016.

Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a swipe at REDD. God only knows we need to try whatever we can to prevent the relentless tide of global forest destruction and degradation which is happening. Alarmingly, recent rates of deforestation in the Amazon have started rising again.

But two government departments sending out such contradictory signals is bewildering. The UK’s international profile and reputation on forest issues is generally a strong one but such a reputation can only be sustained by showing that we can walk the walk in our own backyard.

In England we may well be sleepwalking our way into deforestation of our own – declining planting rates combined with ever more stresses created by tree diseases, pressure of development and neglect of woodland means that the steady incremental gain of trees and woods in our landscape, which has been the case for the past few decades, is no longer a given. Take a look at the work from the University of Maryland’s Global Forest Change publically available satellite data, it clearly reveals the depressing picture in the Amazon Basin.

But those same satellite images can only hint at the changes happening here in the UK, where the small scale and complexity of our intimate landscapes is masking some worrying trends. Defra and the Forestry Commission are currently unable to produce definitive figures on the net change of woodland area in England from one year to the next. The Forestry Commission has estimated that we are losing woodland at a rate of 1,500 hectares per year in England. With new planting rates having fallen to only 2,500 hectares per year (a ten year low), this two year freeze on grants for new woods would see the figures plummet further – almost guaranteeing a period of net forest loss or deforestation here in England.

So if DECC can fix it for forests overseas, let’s see whether Defra can fix it for England’s forests too. Without any new grants for the next two years, any modest momentum on woodland expansion will be lost and vital progress towards creating more resilient woodland will be delayed. For the sake of about £5-6 million per annum we are in danger of undermining credibility overseas as well as the long-term health of our own modest forest resource. There’s still time to take part in our petition and help us make the case to Defra – if you have joined in with those who have already signed, please share the link with your friends!

Hilary Allison, Policy Director

About Kaye Brennan

Senior Campaigner (Policy & Advocacy) for the Woodland Trust and Administrator, 'Woodland Matters' blog
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12 Responses to Should Defra be REDD in the face?

  1. Pingback: What came out of Warsaw on REDD? Part 2: Some reactions | REDD-Monitor

  2. Pingback: English forests threatened by government | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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  4. edithkl says:

    That young reporter, Simon Reeve, who goes round the world doing travelogues like “Tropic of Cancer” and “Tropic of Capricorn” makes some quite fierce comments about the state of the environment, and has a penchant for showing some scenes tourists do not see – e.g. in Australia, the vast scars of mining in Western Australia and the convoys of workers flying in to work there from all over the world. Or the sea of plastic in the Pacific. Etc. – he manages to slot in a shock at least once an hour. In his later series “Indian Ocean” he gets bolder – I think that is where I saw the bit about Australia, and he also exposed the state of the seas off Western Australia being denuded of marine species.

    Anyway, in one programme, I forget which, he crossed the border between India and Burma and remarked – with a cheeky grin to the camera – on the contrast between the ravaged state of India’s forests and the pristine state of Burma’s forests. He then went on to show the misery caused by the then dictatorship of Burma – but still, every village he visited looked like paradise compared to the teeming towns of the Developing World. Burma was sealed in aspic (not now, now Development and Progress are going to start tearing it up, and tonight’s programme on the BBC about its wildlife may be the “last chance to visit”).

    I have used the brilliant Simon Reeve shamelessly to approach my point gingerly – of course Reeve who would not want to be associated with my main point, which is about Garrett Hardin. Hardin shocked the world with his “Tragedy of the Commons” and other books, because he was determined to point out (in the 1970s) that it was mankind as a whole, rich and poor, that was the root cause of all environmental problems and until world population went back to 1 billion there was little that governments could do because they have to make sure people are housed, fed, watered, and preferably also have paid work and are not just sitting in refugee camps due to wars over precious natural resources (because too many people need to access them).

    Hardin had thought this for some time – it was a picture of the Earth from Space in the late 1960s that opened his personal floodgates, and he never looked back. The photo showed that a very large area of the Sahel in Africa had been stripped so bare that it showed up from space as a bald patch in contrast to earlier pictures. Organisations like the Eden Foundation have recently confirmed that the population explosion amongst the nomadic goatherders as North Africa started to develop and to have access to western medicine and western markets, took not only the vegetation, but also the many animal species that thrived in the area previously. So the nomads HAD to move to the cities, having lost their previous source of livelihood partly due to better health from other sources – as is happening all over the world and happened in Britain during the Industrial Revolution.

    So what preserved Burma? A brutal dictatorship with sealed borders, it seems, and no mod cons, utilities, infrastructure, shopping malls, internet, books, films, music, etc. etc. That is the dilemma Hardin chucked the intelligentsia of the world into – and not surprisingly, they reacted badly and still do. Surely it cannot be a stark choice between total austerity in every nation, and total destruction of the natural world? The official answer is No, technology will save everything, people will have less babies and consume less, not more, despite living in reasonable comfort – and we can replant the forests.

    In the meantime, while waiting for the “No” technocrats to be proved right, if you put Deforestation into a search engine, you come up with a very good article on the world situation from Wiki, and also an even more sobering summary page from Wiki, called Deforestation By Region. The latter needs to go into all the schools, all the homes, and all the offices all over the world and just sit there as a poster in every room, casting a severe pall over most of the activity but never mind that.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deforestation
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deforestation_by_region

    How fast can we plant, and how fast can what we plant grow? Because the forests are crashing down all over the world at great speed. I don’t think looking at the global situation is demoralising, it just means that replanting moves from an emergency measure into – well UNEP now uses “disaster prevention” every five minutes, so disaster measure is not too strong and perhaps UNEP is going to shift to “catastrophe prevention” soon, certainly the word “disaster” does not do justice to the forests situation alone, never mind anything else.

    I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on the Environment, due to being exposed to the pioneers as a teenager (Fritz Schumacher, Leopold Kohr, Rudolf Bahro, Teddy Goldsmith). But these simple facts on Deforestation were a shock to me, only yesterday. I think it would be a shock to them, if they were still alive – although they did predict it, if the world as a whole did not change tack completely.

    I only looked Deforestation up because of this article. So every little helps, especially outfits like the Woodland Trust, and we must never give up – but please let’s not go around blaming “them”. It is us, us, us – every one of us, even if we live very frugally, we are still part of the system. The whole system is wrong, and it is global. This is the huge problem we will not face up to. I am absolutely sick and tired of being told by “green” campaigners who are only green in the sense “novice”, that if the whole world goes back to subsistence farming we can have 7 billion people. A) it is not going to happen and B) even if it did happen, it would not help – because Hardin was right about the Sahel goatherders, it is not rich versus poor – it is all of us against the natural world that sustains us whether we have a goat, or a semi with a bicycle, or a mansion with 4 cars.

    • Ash says:

      Oh Edith, how true your words! Every time I hear someone blame this government for all our environmental issues I want to scream! IT IS US, US US who are killing the earth!

      • Matt Derrington says:

        It does seem to be true that all these problems exist only when humans are involved. If there were no humans, it would be unlikely there would be any of the exact same problems. Problems caused by Nature seem to be compensated for by Nature in a reasonably efficient manner.

        Another feature of people seems to be complication. The more people, the more different opinions, activities, effects, etc. Which tends to make any problem caused by them, a particularly complicated one. In the case of a complicated problem, the solution tends to need to be approached from any and all sides simultaneously to stand much chance of success.

        So who are ‘people’? Governments are claimed to be comprised of people. Unfortunately they seem to be mostly either stupid, greedy and short-sighted, and or deliberately self-serving people. Or worse. So the top-down improvements that are needed from their position, are infamously inadequate.

        People at large are, as probability would predict when large numbers are involved, a wide range of types. The type outlined in the paragraph above. Then the type who does wrong through sheer ignorance- possibly put and kept in that state deliberately by the 1st type. Then the type who knows what is wrong and that something should be done about it, but is either too lazy, tired, or afraid- the last 2 attributes also possibly as the direct result of the deliberate activities of the 1st type. Then the type who knows what is wrong, but who does some additional wrong in response, for a variety of reasons- from the stress of having had to put up with such injustice for so long, to a simple lack of calm evaluation. Then finally there is the type who knows what is wrong and, crucially, wise ways to bring it to an end.

        So where does that leave us when we’re faced with an ecosystem that seems to have been brought to the brow of a very dubiously constructed, or even unfinished rollercoaster ride? Well it certainly needs everyone to do whatever they can from wherever they are. Politicians need to be more wisely chosen- AND held to account- vigorously. People need to be educated- in a kind way, not a punishing way. If they’re that ignorant, how were they to know better? And whose fault is it that they were in that state in the 1st place? Other people need not to ‘face up’ to their responsibilities, but to positively embrace them- realising that is what gives them true meaning and satisfaction in their otherwise highly unsatisfactory, cowered and guilt ridden lives. Other people need to take a deep breath (or 3), calm somewhat, refocus, and try to be more circumspect about the best way to deal with things- realising they cannot afford to lower standards if they want to claim to be better than those they despise. And lastly, the people who already know the very best way must please be more vocal. And not stop. Even if no one appears to be listening, or putting much into practice, or doing it imperfectly. And the rest of us need to try to listen carefully, and evaluate- making as sure as we can that what they’re suggesting is what we individually agree is likely the best way to deal with things.

        If everyone does their best, there is hope. It’s not humans themselves that are the problem, nor even possibly large numbers of them. It’s what they do- individually and collectively. If we all ever manage to do our best and be something more like global gardeners or game wardens, then there’s an awful lot of improvement 7 billion of us could make- even to something as already wonderful as Nature. A planet optimising organism, instead of a deadly ecosystem disease. What’s your choice?

      • edithkl says:

        Thank you for not reacting as most of us do when this is suggested. (I reacted badly too, at first, way back in the 1970s, I hit the roof, told the informant he was mad, etc. How I wish he was still alive so I could apologise to him – but he was used to this of course, and like most superbrains was generous enough to know we all make mistakes including him).

      • edithkl says:

        Thank you, you sound from your comments like someone who has kind of known all along and is not surprised by comments like mine (which is not “mine”, I just started listening to the Ecologists instead of walking out of the room, and after reading reams of stuff found they were right and most academics knew they were but could not say so because it was too heretical and also too depressing – heresy is dangerous but also exciting and hopeful, usually, but this is just mindblowing!)

        One book that kind of says it all (but I have not read it, just extracts from it online), seems to be one by old hands Paul and Anne Ehrlich, called “One With Nineveh” (a quote from a poem called “Recessional” by Rudyard Kipling). Like most Deep Ecologists, they started out in the 20th century saying fairer distribution of resources was part of the answer, but I doubt if they still maintain that hope in the 21st century, as we witness the way the Developing World is going for broke.

        http://www.stanford.edu/group/CCB/Pubs/books/nineveh/nineveh.htm

        It is really difficult for Ecologists to make the leap from having a bit of hope that a “fairer” world will solve everything to realising that Hardin was right despite all the brickbats thrown at him. It is difficult for all of us – but if we can accept this it would re-direct a lot of energy from railing at the super-rich to trying to get their assistance in a non-commercial way. For instance, buying woodland and other green areas and just letting them stay as they are, with perhaps a team of upkeep volunteers – just to prevent development. Why not buy the Isle of Grain and the Isle of Sheppey, for instance? Then refuse permission for an airport. A better investment than gold, famous paintings, and other stuff the super-rich are buying as paper money and starts to teeter on the brink.

        Also, we need funds to prosecute major Developers for breaking international laws on the Environment with impunity (because Governments don’t stop them). Getting angry with the rich suits the major polluters – they can then divide and rule. If we admit we are all polluters, we can win over some billionaires and move on to some damage limitation. Perhaps ! ?

  5. Derek West says:

    I had no expectations of a green goverment when this bunch were ellected,but they have exceeded my expectations in their total failure to protect our wildlife and wildplaces,all I can say is that I never voted for them.or ever will.

  6. Matt Derrington says:

    How almost the most deforested country in Europe, also responsible through its imperial activities for vast areas of the world’s forests going under the axe and plough, can have a shred of credibility when it comes to trees, is quite beyond me.

    It’s current elected dictatorship can’t even stick to its paltry promises to edge back in the right direction. Beyond laughable- beyond despicable- almost beyond words.

  7. JENNIFER STRAY says:

    Of course the Government doesn’t understand. Or more likely, doesn’t want too. They should beware the ballot box!

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