Tree Pests and Diseases - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:13 pm on 13th February 2020.

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Photo of Lord Mann Lord Mann Non-affiliated 2:13 pm, 13th February 2020

My Lords, I still have my PG Tips book of British trees—50 cards painstakingly plucked from individual tea packets and glued into my album. Sadly, I no longer have my I-Spy books to use with my grandchildren but, if I did, I warrant that it would take longer to spot the individual varieties of British trees than it took me, begging family and neighbours, to put together my PG Tips book of trees in the first place.

Part of our post-war history is how bad we have been on trees. I cite as reference the comments of Alfred Wainwright in relation to Ennerdale on the western fells of the Lake District, where one can sit on the bench outside Black Sail youth hostel—the most spectacular view in all of England, but for many decades blighted by monolithic planting of just one type of tree, with no thought to the rest of the consequential environment.

On former coalfield sites, the same error has been made in more recent times: cheap and cheerful, monolithic planting attempting purely to cover the spoil rather than to fertilise the environment. I have heard and learned great wisdom today in this Chamber. As the Government go forward with their objective of huge and wide-scale tree planting, I hope they use variety and move away from the monolithic, combining the varieties available—perhaps using that PG Tips book as a good barometer—and enhancing the landscape.

I declare something of an interest, for I have lived for many years on the fringes of what is, in reality, still Sherwood Forest. There is no finer place. There is a model there, one I have promoted before, of recreating Sherwood Forest, not as a bureaucracy with big, new buildings and lots of state employees managing some kind of body, but as a planning entity. It is creating a boundary—a border defining Sherwood Forest. It would create a model of how we can designate certain areas as favoured areas for investment, with the expectation of high-quality tree planting. I recommend that to government, but it needs something even more revolutionary, which government already has.

Neighbourhood planning, first envisaged in 2003, has taken off greatly in the last decade. I hear that the district of Bassetlaw has a higher percentage of its land acreage under neighbourhood plans than anywhere else in the country. From listening to neighbours and others—and once, in a former life, constituents—I can say that what that means is that local people have control over the planning process. The local authority is required to work to the locally micro-defined needs. The weakness in the strategy is not how it is generally applied by government, for it is a brilliant strategy. However, the guidance and expertise provided in a village such as mine have gone into the nth degree about what kind of bricks should be used, what combination of looks there should be, what kind of tiles should be on the roofs and how road and path layouts should be—very important issues, to my mind. The more advanced might include cycleways. But lacking within it is the question not of green space but of what kind of green.

The Government could write and issue effective guidance to be used by local authorities and taken at the neighbourhood planning level to give ownership at the local level, where people want to see that variety. It could allow, for example, a planning authority to say, “If you want to build an extension, build an extension, but you should plant a number of trees as well alongside it. Here’s the spec of trees that should be planted.” If someone is going to build a warehouse, which seem to get larger, taller and wider by the minute, there should be not some nasty, cheap, cheerful, minuscule set of trees alongside it that mask it and contribute to nothing but an excuse factor for the developer and the owner of the site, but trees that have been properly thought out. It should not stop development, but complement it. That is a power not only to designate areas such as Sherwood Forest, in co-operation with local authorities and without costing the state and the taxpayer money or employing bureaucracy, but to shift that power, as is already happening in a widespread and successful way with neighbourhood planning, and building it into the green environment.

What I predict will happen from there is that communities would say that they would rather have the traditional varieties—the colour, shape, feel, and the noise of birds and decent wildlife that we wish to see. That could be done for free for the taxpayer in most cases, simply by using the planning system coherently. Plenty of new Ministers seem to be being appointed around the place today—I hope no problems have or will come to the Front Bench—and if the Government want a slogan, the people will go with “British trees for British woodlands”, “British trees for British villages” or “British trees for British towns and cities”. The powers are there. I hope that will be taken forward with other government departments.