The English Tree Strategy

Nature New Mills has responded to the Defra England Tree Strategy consultation that was launched in June and closed 11th September.  

The consultation sought views on the following:  

  • how to expand, protect and improve our public and private trees and woodlands,  
  • the increased role that trees and woodlands can play in supporting the economy,  
  • how best to further connect people to nature, and  
  • the most effective way in which trees and woodlands can be created and managed to help combat climate change.  

    Defra Press Release:  

    The consultation strategy included an introduction from the Forestry Minister, Zac Goldsmith, commending it as a way forward. The consultation consisted of 45 questions, and information to facilitate responses to the questions. The consultation document can be found in pdf form via the following link:  

    As a group, Nature New Mills decided it was important to respond to the strategy. We collated responses from the group and fed those into the consultation survey. It took us a good half a day to do this and we hope that time has been well spent. As one of us said, ‘the Defra Document is a bit overwhelming’ 😉  

    We felt that the information given to help us respond to the consultation was carefully set out, though we would have appreciated further references, particularly to the scientific expertise informing the document.  

    We thought that there are some useful aspects to the proposed strategy. The strategy, for example, refers to natural regeneration and the need to encourage greater biodiversity. It emphasises the need for diversity in tree planting, as opposed to the establishment of tree monocultures, the need to ensure the resilience of woods in the face of climate breakdown, the need to control browsing by deer and other mammals, the value of tree corridors (to encourage biodiversity), the benefits of encouraging appropriate tree coverage along rivers as a means of controlling flooding, and the importance of trees and woodland for wellbeing, particularly in urban contexts. The strategy document emphasises the need to support and incentivise tree planting and regeneration projects financially. It also refers to the need for local community involvement, for example in mapping local areas. This last point is relevant to Nature New Mills and doubtless other areas of socio-environmental activity related to Transition New Mills.  

    All of this is heartening. However, as we noted in our response to the consultation, the overall target for tree coverage  (from 10% to 12%) is nowhere near sufficient, in a country with much less tree coverage than other European countries .We were also concerned that the strategy is more oriented around tree planting than it is with ‘reducing carbon and increasing biodiversity through better management of natural systems’. Our concern was that ‘a tree planting rush’ could happen at the expense of ‘other valuable habitats which may also play important roles in those objectives’.  

    Alongside these concerns, we were also unconvinced by the use of the term ‘ecosystems services’ in the strategy. We felt that this ‘service’ orientation would result in perverse incentives and constituted a ‘spurious cost-benefit tool which attempts to put a monetary value to woodland and nature’. Connectedly we questioned the desire for ‘energy forestry’ using ‘fast-growing trees which are planted and specially grown on a short rotation to provide biomass for power generation’ (Strategy consultation document, Page, 34). We wondered how much of the additional 2% forest cover would be given over to short rotation for wood biomass ( the strategy consultation document gives no indication that we could find).  Finally and substantively for us, the document does not explicitly mention the grouse shooting industry or industrial scale sheep farming (though it does mention deer and squirrels). We felt this was an omission and so raised it as a consideration in relevant parts of the consultation.  

    Alongside these key points we made the following points in the consultation (we have not included the exhaustive list of points made):  

    Creating space for nature  
  • Ensuring natural regeneration should be at the top of the hierarchy of approaches (as recommended by Rewilding Britain in relation to the strategy): helping people to understand how natural regeneration  works, timescales, and to value the evolving landscape even though it might look messy to some and not result in instant gratification.  
  • Natural regeneration is less costly than tree planting  
  • Reduce barriers to species re-introduction (e.g. beavers) to help manage ecosystems.  

Local communities and local authorities  

  • Local councils should be required to have a tree strategy which involves local non-governmental organisations.  
  • Connected to the previous point, a need for greater publicised transparency on land ownership and current subsidies.  
  • Facilitation of urban natural brown field regeneration and planting by community.  
  • Raise awareness of the health and wellbeing benefits along with promoting a sense of ownership of civil spaces.  Increasing opportunities for dialogue and involvement with communities through agential activities.  This facilitates the smooth running of local government and ultimately the implementation of central government initiatives.  
  • Advice and encouragement for communities to collect and grow trees for local planting in appropriate places.  
  • Actively promote citizen planting of trees in gardens which have been paved over; incentives and support to unpave and plant permaculture lazy gardens.  
  • More emphasis on help with whole ecosystem management, rather than just tree management. More accessible information for NGO’s, communities and general public education.  

    Planning and regulation  
  • Planning guidance for new developments to take more account of tree planting and connections between natural areas. Incentivising not just tree planting, but ongoing maintenance and survival of trees 5 or 10 years later.  
  • The planning system should be able to refuse development where this impacts ancient woodland. We also need to take better account of the cumulative effect of habitat loss.  
  • A means to put protection orders on trees along with a register for why trees are felled, who felled them and contract numbers.  
  •  Making it easier for town’s people to plant up trees in urban tarmac spaces can help with drainage issues and provide greened environment conferring health benefits.  

Supporting the economy:  Ecotourism  

(Note: The England Tree Strategy is interested in tree planting as a means of supporting the economy. Nature New Mills has made mention of ecotourism in meetings. Eco tourism could well be a useful way of supporting the economy, so we referred to it in the strategy document as below:  

  • clearer routes to helping design sustainable services involved in tourism management  
  • We would like people to be employed in this sector as conservationists and with a view to fostering eco-tourism around unique ecologies  
  • Eco-tourism has the greatest potential for drawing together multiple economic stakeholders whilst maintaining and growing sustainable landscapes  

Transition New Mills Reading Group

The New Mills Transition Reading Group meets monthly, currently on Zoom, to discuss a book, watch a film/video or host a speaker. This month we discussed Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Racism by Reni Eddo-Lodge. We are all white but some have close family members and friends who are people of colour.

Participants liked the book, found it readable and appreciated the author’s use of her personal experiences and anecdotes to explain well, in a few words, the situations and double binds that black people find themselves in when talking to white people about racism.

We found useful her explanation of the difference between prejudice and racism (prejudice plus power) and the discussion of institutionalised and structural racism. We found useful, if uncomfortable, her critique of the liberal approach which says ’everyone is equal’ but denies the existence of the power imbalance.

The chapter on black history was good and led to a discussion about the slave trade, the  development in the 19th century of a pseudoscience of racism, and the ways in which groups are deliberately ‘dehumanised’ in order to allow exploitation, discrimination, mistreatment or justify war. We looked at how the definitions and categories of racism have changed over time and place.

We discussed the powerful role of the media and culture in shaping and supporting racist ideology but noted that this reflects the structures of power in our society. Living in a small, predominantly white town whiteness is easily seen as the norm and we need to make more visible the diversity of backgrounds that we already have in order to challenge that assumption.  We discussed the section on feminism, racism in the women’s liberation movement (several of us are watching Mrs America) and the issue of intersectionality of different oppressions.

Being white and looking at racism from the position of privilege is uncomfortable but inaction is collusion. She puts it to white people to talk to each other and take action. We discussed experiences of interrupting racist comments and the Quaker response ‘I wouldn’t see it that way myself’. Change needs to happen in tandem between personal change together with social and institutional changes. Other suggestions from the group were – be friendly to counteract the hostility of white racism, get comfortable acknowledging mistakes.

Flatpack Democracy – Cafe Transition event

We are delighted to welcome Peter Macfadyen, author of the renowned book Flatpack Democracy (and 2!).

Starting in the Somerset town of Frome in 2013, the Flatpack Democracy movement has shown that by standing as a group of independent local councillors working closely together, people all over the country can and do steer their local councils to thrive and prosper. Flatpack Democracy is a practical guide and inspiration!

Join us on Thursday, 2 July 2020 from 19:30-21:30, using the link below:

Feel free to invite your friends, too!

For further reading in the meantime, click here:

Transition New Mills Reading Group

The Transition New Mills Reading Group continues to meet monthly on Zoom, to discuss a book, watch a film/video or host a speaker. This month we discussed Dieter Helm’s book Green and Prosperous Land – A Blueprint for Rescuing the British Countryside.

Dieter Helm is an economist and brings a pragmatic view to the discussion of how to repair the damage that has been done to the environment in the UK. He explains the concept of Natural Capital, these are free, natural assets. Some are non-renewable such as fossil fuels, others are productive on an ongoing basis and will deliver returns for ever unless they are damaged below a base survival level, for example our rivers/water supplies, land, marine environment etc

There are three principles underlying his proposal – Public money should only be used for public goods, the Polluter should pay and there should always be a Net environmental gain. He presents a strong argument for the inclusion of external costs (eg pollution) in the cost of things as this will lead to changes in behaviour. (we referred to the plastic bag charge several times as an example of how things can change behaviour overnight).

He chaired a government committee which has drawn up a 25 year plan to restore and improve the natural environment in the UK. It involves major changes to taxes, subsidies, regulation and enforcement but argues for local non profits (ie not government or private sector) to be the main agents to carry out the delivery. This is a very detailed and comprehensive plan which shows what can be done with the resources available to turn environmental degradation around.

We had some criticisms – that it only refers to the UK and some issues are global (eg. the aviation industry) and/or involve our relationship with other countries (for example food security) and there is no reference to wider issues such as class or decolonisation which could be relevant to the current situation.