Yes, do plant trees & re-wild – but in the right places and the right way
AUTHOR: CLLR LILLIAN BURNS, NALC NATIONAL ASSEMBLY MEMBER AND PART OF NALC'S CLIMATE CHANGE TASK AND FINISH GROUP
NALC’s recent climate change survey of local councils asked: "What carbon-reducing measures are you working on in the community?"
Two actions that rated far and away above the others were tree and shrub planting and rewilding/wildlife-friendly planting(from verges to larger areas). Both of these activities were nearly twice as popular as the next nearest measures – the installation of electric vehicle charging points and the expansion of cycle lanes and footpaths.
Having ‘clocked’ these outcomes, NALC’s climate change task and finish group are keen to pass on best practice tree planting advice and want to de-bunk some re-wilding myths and encourage small scale schemes.
Estimates vary depending on different surveys, but the average tree cover across England is between 12% and 16%, compared to the EU average of 35%. In view of the benefits that trees bring, which range from capturing carbon and improving air quality to helping to prevent landslides and providing a feeling of wellbeing, it is a most laudable aim to wish to see more trees planted. But the way to approach this is not to arbitrarily identify a spare plot of land and stick on it some trees that might be available via a free tree scheme. Tree planting can be harmful to the environment if the wrong species or location is chosen. And, don’t only consider planting all the same species.
The best and most versatile agricultural land is obviously not a suitable location, but nor is mature pastureland in many instances – and there needs to be an awareness of where waterways are located in order not to damage them.
Myths about re-wilding abound. There is no automatic correlation between a rewilding scheme and the reintroduction of big cats and wolves! Beavers, if re-introduced to an area, do not eat salmon stocks. They are herbivores. Nor should rewilding be thought of as something that only applies to huge areas of land.
Re-wilding is about conservation – enabling natural processes to shape the land and sea, repair damaged ecosystems and restore degraded landscapes. Its focus is on the retention of habitats, the reversal of soil erosion, the creation of wetlands where appropriate and encouraging specialist ecosystems.
Whilst there is a stirring example of bigger schemes, such as the trailblazing one at the Knepp Estate in Sussex, WildEast in East Anglia, Kingfishere Bridge Fen in Cambridgeshire, the Ennerdale Valley in the Lake District, Burbage Moor in the Peak District and a joint scheme between Kent Wildlife Trust and the Wildwood Trust, there are also parish-level schemes emerging. For instance, Corfe Castle Parish Council in Dorset are working with the National Trust on re-wilding a Trust-owned field as a community-led project. In addition, there are instances of community-led urban re-wilding schemes, sometimes on local authority-owned land.
The Climate Change Task and Finish Group urge Local Councils to consider what role they might play in climate change initiatives.