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