Blog: Seeing the wood for the trees, 11 December 2020

The LGA Webinar, Seeing the wood for the trees, was organised as part of the LGA’s green webinar series. It examined the case for planting trees in terms of finance and carbon, the challenges this presents for local authorities and the benefits of urban tree planting.


The LGA Webinar, Seeing the wood for the trees, was organised as part of the LGA’s green webinar series. It examined the case for planting trees in terms of finance and carbon, the challenges this presents for local authorities and the benefits of urban tree planting. 

The UK Government has targeted 30,000 Ha of new tree planting each year until 2025 to help us reach our legally binding carbon mitigation goals, and local authorities are looking to make further progress on the ground to meet the target. Trees also potentially play an important part in adapting to a changing climate.

Further benefits accrue either through biodiversity enhancement, or through the production of commercial timber products for construction, where the UK currently imports 93 per cent of its requirements. Local authorities are starting to produce tree strategies, and some have commenced mass planting programmes.

This overview provides a summary of what each speaker presented on, followed by the conclusions and next steps moving forward.

Over 170 people attended the webinar with six speakers presenting their thoughts and reflections on the impact of the pandemic on council climate change strategies. The session was chaired by Councillor Mike Haines, Leader of the Independent Group, Teignbridge District Council.

Councillor Mike Haines began the webinar by outlining how important planting trees are in tackling climate change and preserving biodiversity. He outlined the work that Teignbridge council are undertaking around tree planting and described some of the challenges that councils face when approaching a tree planting scheme. 

Laura Jones, Forest for Cornwall Lead and Forestry Team Leader, Cornwall Council

The Forest for Cornwall is aiming to capture 1 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions and cover 2 per cent of Cornwall’s total area. This is a Forest for Cornwall – addressing the needs, opportunities and challenges of Cornwall and its residents. For example, there are pockets of deprivation and high rates of skin cancer, so it needed to be about accessibility and shade in urban areas as well as rural plantings. The challenge of flash flooding means that the trees they plant need to help their residents. 

They set out four strategic priorities: leadership, engaging and enabling our communities and businesses, stock and being able to act at scale. This is a long-term commitment. 

It is then about using all the levers available to it including – their own assets – e.g. Cornwall have received funds under the “Urban tree challenge fund” for urban planting and is exploring plantings on their farmed estate. As a planning authority there is the opportunity of Biodiversity Net Gain and exploring a canopy calculator as part of this processes. They are also building houses, and through these strategic plans are seeking positive expressions of trees and green spaces.

It is vital for councils to work with partners to deliver opportunities so there is a strong sense of communal leadership. They are currently speaking with the Environment Agency about future natural flood prevention through Natural Flood Management. Ensuring local involvement is key - they are engaging with local nurseries, farms, businesses and residents. The Forest for Cornwall are seeking to understand and address all of the issues surrounding tree establishment and this is an ongoing journey.

Chris Waterfield, Carbon and Water Advisor, Forestry Commission

In Chris’s presentation, he talked about incentives and carbon emissions. The policy setting for woodland creation in Britain is very broad and the best it has been. Regulations can be time consuming, but it is essential in a long-term tree planting strategy and vision for the future. Woodland creation incentives should help grow small woodlands in local communities, private sector land and farms. Chris set out some of the incentive funds in his slides which are available on the LGA webpage. The woodland carbon code is essential for tree planting and carbon sequestration. The Woodland creation planning grant helps councils to evaluate the opportunities and constraints; it is trying to make the hurdles achievable. Maintenance payments are essential for woodland establishment and councils could investigate this for potential funds.

What is to come? The nature for climate fund was announced in March 2020 with a substantial sum of six hundred and forty million pounds for tree planting. Next year, there will be the England Woodland Creation offer. Offsetting residual carbon reduction emissions allows councils to make statements about greenhouse gas offsetting. There are eligibility criteria and applicants should study this as it is quite detailed.

The woodland carbon code, covering all the UK, has been up and running for over a decade. They have 258 projects validated and some of those have verified that there is carbon sequested in the trees. They will see another 268 projects coming forward in 2021. The woodland carbon guarantee is available in England and is an additional income stream for woodland owners, with thirty-five year contracts for guaranteed payments of woodland carbon budgets. All types of woodland creation have a role to play and time is critical. This needs to be actioned in the next five years to make a difference to net zero targets. Carbon benefits are maximised by vigorous growth so you need to consider your species, and the design of woodlands is crucial. The currency of woodland will become far more important and is a huge opportunity for the sector. Carbon finance will support the sector, but we need to avoid any green marketing used deceptively. Please do download the forestry commission advice packs below:

Richard Evans, Project Director, Local Partnerships and Jo Wall, Strategic Director for Climate Emergency, Local Partnerships

Jo and Richard presented how councils can develop an outline plan for delivery and the key considerations, including identifying land, the commercial case and assessing carbon sequestration potential. Jo began by explaining how we are starting to see several tree strategies in councils but a number of these do not seem to be deliverable. There is a huge need for people to understand why they are doing this and the effects it will have. Carbon accounting is key to qualifying these schemes.

In the policy context, we are seeing changes and what that means for land use. What will the UK look like moving towards a net zero future? Grassland for livestock takes up most of Britain’s land use now but moving towards net zero, there needs to be a step change in woodland creation to achieve large targets. Public bodies need to be aware of these changes and plan for them. There are some key themes to consider when you are planning woodland cover as part of the wider decarbonisation strategy in your organisation. Looking at this across the whole estate and not forest creation on its own is vital.

Partnerships need to be considered – the England tree strategy talks about the importance of looking at a strategy on a landscape basis and the broader considerations with your region. Engage with wider stakeholders such as Natural England, the Woodland Trust, landowners, local authorities, residents and so on. Connectivity between woodlands is important so you need to think across a whole landscape. What type of woodland and scale are you looking at? Urban authorities need to find opportunities for recreation locally. You can build a financial case over a long period, but as a local authority, you want to capture the wider benefits (air quality, flood alleviation, recreation etc.).

Ric Bravery, Strategic Health Lead, Wolverhampton City Council and Nick Sandford, Regional External Affairs Officer, The Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust is the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity with over 500,000 supporters. They manage over 100 woods and are now working with partners to achieve an overall target of a UK rich in woods and trees. They are aware of the key role councils play in this ambition and are helping many to plant more woodlands and trees in urban areas. They want every council to have a tree strategy and policies that protect them, as well as ancient woodland and tree conservation. There is a vision to see trees outside of woodlands protected. Housing development is a good opportunity for trees to be planted – they need to have a minimum of 30 per cent tree canopy cover. Free community tree packs are also very popular and can be accessed on their website. The Woodland Trust produced the emergency tree plan which sets out how they can tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies. Councils are under financial pressures, so they wanted to offer practical financial support, this resulted in the emergency tree fund, which has received 2 million donations. The Woodland Trust has a vision to make this a permanent feature of their offer to councils.

Wolverhampton City Council case study – The Woodland Trust attended the council’s sustainability advisory group after it launched the tree charter to get support for a tree planting scheme. So far, they have managed to plant 1,300 trees early in 2020. They have done this in partnership with several community groups which has been the most valuable part of the project. If it had not been for the pandemic, they would have planted 2,700 trees. There is some potential for more schemes next year, but it is very hard to plan due to the uncertain circumstances. They do have 1,260 whips ordered for The Woodland Trust community tree planting fund. This has had huge leadership buy in from Councillors. Having some money for maintenance was also valuable, it has helped with the development of the West Midlands Virtual Forest.

What does the future look like? Working with Lloyds Banking Group and the Woodland Trust and their Emergency Tree Fund, community orchards, the community and school planting.

If you would like to contact the Woodland Trust about their support offer, please contact governmentaffairs@woodlandtrust.org.uk

Conclusions

What can councils consider as they progress their climate change goals and protect their biodiversity through planting trees?

  • Rapid tree planting will play a key role in the UK’s carbon reduction targets. It is essential that councils recognise how increasing their woodlands and trees will benefit the climate and biodiversity in their areas
  • Make sure that you are planting the right trees in the right places
  • Acquire cross departmental support across your council, this work does not just affect climate change teams
  • Partnerships are key to deliver an effective tree planting scheme
  • There is a question around adaptation and the role of trees in this. They sit across the whole journey and something everyone relates to
  • We need to look at both the social and economic benefits of trees as well as environmental