‘Life’s better together with trees’, quipped Clive Anderson, President of the Woodland Trust, as he formally opened the first of the Trust’s party conference season fringe events.
He was speaking in the Midland Hotel in Manchester, next to the main conference centre where many organisations held fringe meetings during the Labour Party Conference. Following on from the launch of our call for a Charter for trees, woods and people at the House of Commons in June, the Trust is discussing what our call for a Charter and associated manifesto asks mean within each of the three main political traditions; we have similar fringe events this week in Birmingham and next week in Glasgow where we will discuss the same with the Conservative and Lib Dem parties.
As a conservation charity, the Woodland Trust has no intention to try and influence how voters act next May but we are determined – like others holding fringe events – to ensure that all political parties get to hear about the things we and our supporters care about as they prepare their manifestos ahead of the next election.
We were delighted at the standard of debate in Manchester which got our conference season programme under way.
Our CEO, Beccy Speight, set out the case for a new Charter: the range of challenges facing woods and trees, and the need to ensure everyone – whoever they are, wherever they live – can benefit from trees.
Barry Gardiner, Shadow environment minister, spoke eloquently about how “it is difficult to conceive of a landscape feature more important than a tree”. He went onto describe Labour’s ambitions to ensure that biodiversity and access take their proper place in the priorities of the Public Forest Estate. He also indicated that building on the success of the National Forest would be a key priority for woodland creation policy. He also talked about the need to protect the landscapes which deliver ecosystem services.
Joan Walley chair of the Commons Environmental Audit committee spoke of how trees were “a physical symbol” of long-term strategic planning. She also spoke of how in policy terms, they suffer from lack of synchronicity with political cycles. Joan’s drawing attention to the public health importance of trees was much appreciated and stimulated valuable extra debate.
Anthea Sully, former leader of the Labour group on Peterborough Council, brought the increasingly important local perspective and spoke of the ‘cradle to grave’ importance of trees in people’s lives and their role in creating communities where people can thrive.
All in all, a strong start to conference season. However, with all parties, the real test will come in setting out and implementing policy!
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