National Tree Strategy — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall on 16th December 2020.

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[Relevant documents: e-petition 300050, Legal rights for ancient trees.]

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 9:30 am, 16th December 2020

I remind hon. Members of the new arrangements for Westminster Hall so that social distancing can be respected. I remind Members that they must arrive for the start of debates in Westminster Hall and are expected to remain for the wind-ups, provided there is space in the room. Members are asked to respect the one-way system around the room; please exit by the door on the left. Members should sanitise their microphones before they use them, using the cleaning materials provided, and dispose of them—that is the cleaning materials, not the microphones—as they leave the room.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the National Tree Strategy.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I declare an interest as a metro Mayor.

With Parliament’s focus understandably elsewhere at the moment, I am grateful to the Minister, to the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Luke Pollard and to hon. Members for being here in Westminster Hall this morning. I also thank the Petitions Committee for linking this debate to the “Legal rights for ancient trees” petition, to which 17,000 people have added their name.

Our country—indeed, our planet—faces two major environmental crises: climate change and biodiversity collapse. The principle that trees harness the power to help us overcome both those crises is one on which we can all agree. I hope, too, that we can agree that, as the famous Chinese proverb puts it, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.”

We should take encouragement from the fact that every single major political party committed at last year’s general election to significantly increasing tree cover. From capturing carbon to reducing soil erosion, from improving air quality to alleviating flooding, and from supporting biodiversity to promoting health and wellbeing, the benefits that trees bring to our natural environment, our economy and our society cannot be overlooked or overstated.

However, the fact remains that we do not have enough trees and we are not yet looking after the trees that we have adequately. That is why the England tree strategy is so important. It represents a golden opportunity to rethink our approach to trees. Moreover, it is a chance to show the world how the UK is leading the way in addressing the climate emergency, by championing nature-based solutions ahead of COP26.

I should say from the outset that I will focus my remarks on the forthcoming England tree strategy, but this debate is entitled “National Tree Strategy”. Forestry, of course, is devolved and it is therefore important that we hear the voices from all our four nations. First, and I am sure that the Minister will address in her remarks, I would welcome an update on the consultation process. What work is being done to develop the strategy and when does her Department expect to publish the revised strategy?

I turn now to the issue of targets. As we know, the Government are committed to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Although I appreciate that there is considerable debate over the ambition of that date, if the Government are to achieve this goal, the UK will require a major expansion of tree cover. Despite the role that trees play in combating the climate crisis, there is no formal way to set targets regarding trees in England.

In its sixth carbon budget, which was published last week, the Committee on Climate Change was clear that the UK needs to do more. According to the committee’s report, we need to increase tree cover in the UK from the current level of 12% to around 20%. This will require up to 70,000 hectares of new trees and woods to be established each year. On our current trajectory, however, we will get nowhere near that recommendation.

Take last year as an example. The provisional Forestry Commission figures showed that just 13,460 hectares of new trees and woodland were created, of which only 17% was in England. That leads me to the Environment Bill, which I feel has a gaping hole on the issue of tree planting. In Committee, the Government were clearly reluctant to insert targets in the Bill, as was seen with new clause 17, which was tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport.

Perhaps the Minister will take another look at new clause 19, which I tabled in Committee with the support of the Woodland Trust. It would ensure that the Government prepared a tree strategy for England and produced targets for the protection, restoration and expansion of trees and woodland. The proposal has a great deal of public support. Those on the Bill Committee should have received a compendium of comments from Woodland Trust members, which show a thirst for meaningful and binding targets. I invite the Minister to confirm whether the England tree strategy will include statutory targets and to say something about the target-setting measures in the Environment Bill.

Of course, this is not just a stats game. Quantity is important, but that should not mean that we compromise on quality. We urgently need more trees, but they must be the right trees, in the right places and delivered in the right way. A good place to start is how we calculate the expansion of trees and woods in England. Rather than looking simply at a number-of-trees-planted figure, which is problematic for several reasons, we need a standardised, reliable national metric, such as the percentage of land area covered by trees. We also need to establish a series of sub-targets, including for the expansion of new native woodland, trees outside woods and natural regeneration.

I will move on to what trees mean to people, because one of the most obvious lessons of the current public health crisis has been the importance that people place on green space. For many people, especially those living in flats and those without a garden, the local park has been a lifeline without which lockdown would have been even more of a struggle. I believe that the natural world should be not a faraway, abstract concept, but a part of our everyday lives—a notion that holds true regardless of whether we live in Barnsley or Benbecula, Sheffield or Shetland. The Woodland Trust’s “Space for people” research highlights what needs to be done in this respect. Across the UK, only 21% of people live within 500 metres of accessible woodland, and 27% do not have a larger accessible woodland within 4 km of their home.

By committing to increase the number of people who are able to benefit from trees and woodland in our towns and cities, the England tree strategy could help to transform our relationship with nature. That is why I believe that local authorities should be mandated to produce statutory local tree plans. Crucially, the plans would need to be town hall led rather than Whitehall driven. That means ensuring that local government has the power, money and capacity to deliver green reform. I am pleased to say that Barnsley Council is well on the way, having approved its tree planting strategy back in September. We are actively involved in supporting this work at regional level.

This point may be better directed at the Minister’s colleagues at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, but currently London’s Mayor is the only Mayor in England with the power to produce a binding environment strategy. Despite the lack of devolved powers, we have still developed a plan in South Yorkshire to reach net zero by 2040 at the latest. My ambition is for woodland creation and tree planting to play a pivotal role in getting us there.

We have strongly supported plans to grow the Northern forest, and have recently recruited a woodland creation officer to work with our local nature partnership and other partners. The project of the Northern forest is close to my heart. I was part of the team that put the first trees in the ground, I planted the millionth tree, and last year I co-ordinated a letter, to which more than 120 cross-party northern leaders added their support, calling on the Prime Minister to back the Northern forest initiative.

Let me explain for hon. Members not familiar with it that the Northern forest will see 50 million trees planted over the next 25 years in the north of England by the Woodland Trust and its community forest partners. I am proud to say that more than 2.1 million trees are already in the ground. Sadly, woodland cover in our northern counties is only 7.6% ,which is far lower than England’s average of 10%, so the Northern Forest initiative seeks to address that disparity. The forest will span 120 miles, connecting the towns and cities of Liverpool, Manchester and Lancaster to the west, and Sheffield, Leeds and Hull to the east, benefiting 13 million residents and generating £2.5 billion in social, economic and environmental benefits. I very much hope that the England tree strategy will commit to supporting the delivery of the Northern forest.

Levelling up should not just be about new trains and skills programmes, crucial though they are. Regional inequality affects every part of people’s lives, including—crucially—their health and wellbeing. Projects such as the Northern forest should be afforded the status that they deserve. Given the role that trees play in flood prevention, it would be remiss of me not to say a few words about a topic with which the Minister is very familiar. She and I have discussed it one or two times previously. As she knows, it is now one year on from the flooding and devastation that battered our communities in South Yorkshire.

The Minister will be aware that I wrote to her and the Secretary of State last month following a constructive South Yorkshire flooding roundtable. Perhaps she will give a quick update on the points that I raised in the letter. First, where are we on confirming the provisional funds allocated to us through the medium-term plan and grant-in-aid proposals? Secondly, where are we on our innovative proposal to work together to deliver nine shovel-ready projects to protect 860 homes and critical elements of our regional infrastructure? Such a commitment from the Government would show that they are serious about working hand in hand with local leaders to level up, tackle the climate emergency and solve the problems faced by our communities.

I said at the start that we do not have enough trees and that we are not adequately looking after the ones that we have. The importance of the latter must be recognised in the strategy. There have been at least 20 serious plant pests and diseases inadvertently imported into the UK in the last 30 years. We are on course to lose 150 million mature trees and 2 billion saplings and seedlings to ash dieback disease in the next 10 to 20 years, and we have experienced a catastrophic loss of historic trees. Ancient woodlands cover less than 3% of our land and, once lost, can never be replaced. The England tree strategy must commit to preventing any further loss and to the restoration of all plantation on ancient woodland sites.

I appreciate that there are plenty of other issues to speak about. I have not touched on funding structures, the relationship between agriculture and forestry, and much more besides. I will conclude by saying that the need for an ambitious, fully resourced and long-term plan for trees has never been greater. The decisions that the Government make on the forthcoming strategy will shape the viability of our country and relationship with the natural world. By investing in our trees and woods, we invest in healthier and happier futures and lay the foundation for a legacy of which we can all be proud. It is a purpose around which I hope we can all unite.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

The debate can last until 11 o’clock. I am obliged to call the Labour party spokesman no later than 10.37 am. The guideline limits are 10 minutes for the Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister, and Dan Jarvis will have three minutes to sum up the debate at the end. There are six stellar Back Benchers seeking to contribute to the debate. If the time is allocated evenly, each Back Bencher will have eight or nine minutes. If we can share the time equally, that will be best for all. We will start with Chris Clarkson.

Photo of Chris Clarkson Chris Clarkson Conservative, Heywood and Middleton 9:43 am, 16th December 2020

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone? I will not use the full nine minutes.

I thank Dan Jarvis for securing this debate and for an extremely thoughtful speech. I am glad he touched on the Northern forest, as that is what I intend to talk about. As a proud Lancastrian, that is the highest praise I can give to a Yorkshire MP.

As some Members know, I like trees. In fact, my first ten-minute rule Bill called for all future housing developments to have tree-lined streets. I was particularly pleased when the Government adopted that proposal as part of the new planning regulations, and so, with a 100% success rate, I have not introduced any since. That particular endeavour led Quentin Letts to compare me to Basil Fotherington-Tomas, which caused some amusement in the Tea Room, but, given the other nickname I recently acquired courtesy of Angela Rayner, I will take it.

My dendrological exuberance does not just extend to planning. The UK’s horticulture sector is worth £24 billion and supports more than 560,000 jobs. Not only will it play a vital role in aiding our ambition to reach net zero by 2050; it will play an important part in our national recovery from covid-19. The Government’s ambition to recognise the importance of trees through a national tree strategy is a part of this.

I recently contributed to an article in the Conservative Environment Network’s net zero northern powerhouse series, setting out the importance of the Northern forest. It has never been more necessary to secure a future for generations to come and it is essential that policies and practices are put in place to protect trees and woods, to safeguard and buffer ancient woodlands and to stimulate new planting.

In November 2018, the first tree of the Northern forest was planted down the road from my Heywood and Middleton constituency in Radcliffe, where the planting of 200 saplings began as part of the Government’s £5.7 million investment. The Woodland Trust and the partnership behind the Northern forest estimate that it will cost about £500 million to develop it by planting 50 million trees over 25 years, trebling the current planting rate across the area. As an area, we have less than 8% tree coverage—one of the lowest in the country—so it is ideal territory for a new forest. As a major infrastructure project, it is predicted to generate about £2.5 billion of social, economic and environmental benefits.

The presence of trees and other greenery in our environment has a discernible effect on the physical and mental wellbeing of us all, as well as being responsible for cleaner air and playing a role in addressing climate change. As someone who lives in a flat, I say to the hon. Member for Barnsley Central that he is absolutely right that those parks were essential during lockdown.

Local authorities in Greater Manchester, Northumberland and Cumbria were selected by the Government in August to help kickstart nature’s recovery on a countrywide scale. As part of this, our combined authority in Greater Manchester will receive about £1 million of funding to set up a pilot study for a local nature recovery strategy, in conjunction with Natural England. This will kickstart the green recovery with practical and locally-led solutions, bringing a broad range of groups together to identify the green priorities for restoring nature. Our City of Trees will become a beacon for this important work. We should also encourage companies to align their own strategy for zero carbon with the opportunity that planting trees offers to offset emissions. If, as is predicted, the Northern forest offsets around 7 million tonnes of carbon once planted, it could really help make a dent in a corporation’s carbon footprint.

With an environmentally sensitive approach, planting the right trees in the right areas and ensuring that these are maintained as part of an ambitious long-term arboricultural strategy that is fixed on our 2050 goal, we should return around 30% of our country to nature in our lifetimes. In that way we can become, in the words of the Latin playwright Caecilius Statius,

“Serit arbores quae alteri saeclo prosint”— those who plant trees for future generations.

Photo of Derek Twigg Derek Twigg Labour, Halton 9:48 am, 16th December 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis on securing this debate and on his speech which set out some important points. As a Twigg, I am not sure whether I should declare an interest in this debate, but I did think that, as a Twigg, I should participate. I stress that Twigg, in my sense, has two g’s at the end.

In my constituency, Widnes, west Runcorn and Hale village are not blessed with large areas of woodland—most of the woodland only covers fairly small areas. The north of England has significantly less woodland cover than the rest of England, despite being home to 30 million people. We have just 7.6% woodland cover, which is significantly lower than the England average.

The Woodland Trust is working with the Mersey forest, City of Trees, the White Rose forest, HEYwoods and the Community Forest Trust to create a new Northern forest. This will increase woodland cover, while bringing endless benefits and opportunities to the people of the north. The Northern forest is already in progress, and once completed it will help tackle climate change; encourage nature-rich landscapes; reduce the risk of flooding, which has already been referred to; create thousands of new jobs; of course provide cool and clean air in our towns and cities; and improve health and wellbeing.

This is all very positive, but we know much more has to be done. In the time I have, I want to talk mainly about how more can be achieved to increase woodland cover in northern towns, such as the ones I represent in Runcorn and Widnes. In the last century, places such as Widnes, have faced a devastating environmental impact from the chemical industry, which dominated the town. People said Widnes could be smelt before they got to it. There were many chemical factories nearby to the Newtown area, where I am from and which was demolished in the slum clearance programme in the 1960s, well into the 20th century, but there were no trees to speak of. All my family members tell me that they cannot recall hearing or seeing any bees or, for that matter, many flying insects.The chemical pollution had seen to that. I am pleased to say that the old, polluted Widnes has now been transformed, since the early 1970s—not least because of the work of Halton Borough Council. It is now a place that people want to move to and live in

The Mersey forest project and Halton Council have made some welcome improvements in the number of trees in recent times, especially in street and urban tree planting. However, why should urban areas such as Widnes and Runcorn have to be content with only street planting, and small public space tree planting? Of course those are important, but we need to plant many more trees to increase woodland and create a new and significant woodland with native British trees. It is a question of woods that people recognise as woodland.

The Halton local plans, including the delivery and allocations local plan, are very much based on housing and industrial development, but do not seem to give the same weight to tree planting and developing forest and biodiversity. Why should current green and green-belt land be taken for development, rather than for the creation of larger woods with all the community and environmental benefits that that would bring? One of the largest areas in my constituency is a private golf course, which has a lot of trees. There is a proposal to use a significant part of that land for housing. That should never be allowed. It is right in the heart of Widnes. We want more trees and more space for our communities.

I see that today the proposals for controversial planning reforms in England have been revised—according to the local press—after the new housing targets prompted a backlash among many Conservative MPs. We also hear from the press that a computer-based formula used to decide where houses should be located has been updated to focus on cities and urban areas in the north and midlands. If that is true it is appalling. That brings me back to the point about whether it is okay for urban areas such as Runcorn and Widnes to be concerned with tree planting schemes, but not for them to create new significant woodland.

Yesterday the all-party group on gardening and horticulture wrote to me, and I think what it said was important. The group told me:

“A large proportion of the UK’s horticultural industry is concerned that growers may not have the ability and confidence to increase the production of young trees to the levels required. They need to feel confident that there will be an increased market of significant volume at the end of the growing cycles. Competing environmental schemes may lead to landowners perceiving greater benefits from taking other initiatives (such as solar panels) rather than planting trees. Some Government policies and structures are standing in the way of growers having such confidence”.

Promoting tree establishment is very important.

“The right trees need to be planted in the right place to maximise the long-term environmental, social and economic benefits of urban trees, as well as ensure that they do not perish and can survive. This means that species are identified, sourced, and planted in the environment best suited to their needs in order that they may flourish. The planting of the tree is a crucial part of the process, but it is but one part: tree establishment is equally as important. In particular, young tree maintenance is essential to enabling a newly planted tree to establish and thrive.”

How often do we see that newly planted trees are struggling because they have been through drought or have not been watered properly?

“Tree officers, for example, are the custodians of our urban trees, but years of under-investment in public sector tree management have left many of them struggling.”

Of course, some local authorities do not have tree management officers to speak of.

“Trees planted in urban settings need maintenance which has not always happened in the past, as responsibility is often passed between local government departments. Ensuring that local governments have the capabilities to maintain trees in the long term is crucial to ensuring that planting efforts are not wasted. The right professionals with the right resources are needed, but under-investment in the industry in recent years has left many struggling.”

It is a matter of quality, not just quantity, in native trees. We want biodiversity and hedgerows as well. We have seen commitment from the various political parties, which talk about hundreds of millions—in fact, billions—of trees over the next 10 to 30 years. We do need billions of trees to be planted in that period.

Councils should be at the forefront of the re-wooding of our communities, especially in towns such as Runcorn and Widnes, which are highly urbanised but still have enough land within the borough boundaries to accommodate and sustain significant tree planting and, therefore, the development of woods in the future. Developments in my constituency, such as the towns fund initiative in Runcorn—if that proposal comes off—will give opportunities for more tree planting. Again, there are opportunities with the Unlock Runcorn canal initiative, to restore the locks and the links to the Manchester ship canal, but we need the funding to do that.

In summary, Mr Hollobone, the main ask is that Government, working with local authorities, fund significant new sustainable tree planting and sustainable woods. We want people to see what they know and recognise as woods, and for every single town that has the space, to be able to have a wood planted and see it become sustainable and develop over the years. These are new woods, which people with no access to a car can easily get to and enjoy, where they can have the boost to their wellbeing that we know being among the trees brings.

From the pandemic that we have been through, we know how important it is for people to get out walking. I want to see that happen. It is key that every town should have a new wood, where they have land available; most towns have that land. The northern towns should not be lumbered with having to build lots more houses and industrial developments because the leafy parts of the south have risen up against us, as we have seen in the press today.

My final point is that local authorities should have funded tree officers. Schools and local organisations should be at the heart of tree planting, working alongside local authorities.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes 9:56 am, 16th December 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and thank you for such kind words at the beginning. It is always nice to be considered esteemed.

I congratulate Dan Jarvis on his brilliant speech. Many of the points he raised are relevant to my constituency in Totnes and south Devon. I am sure there are many issues on which we shall be able to work together. It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend Chris Clarkson. If wisdom grew on trees, he would surely be a bush.

My constituency is incredible fortunate. In the north it has a national park in the form of Dartmoor, and in the south there is a large area of outstanding natural beauty. We are incredibly privileged that it is so well looked after and cultivated by charities and local government organisations, to ensure that tourists and residents alike are able to benefit from it, in every shape and form. The important point is that it is in demand. People want more, not less. They do not want development to ride over their green spaces, and to see those beautiful hills, moorlands and peat bogs ruined by too many properties sprouting up left, right and centre. It is the same in our cities and towns, where our urban parks and our royal parks have been a safeguard and sanctuary for many people over the course of this year.

It is important to recognise the relationship that we all have with our green spaces and how we might cultivate them in future years. The Government have taken some appropriate steps over the past weeks and months. The England tree strategy consultation, which has had over 20,000 submissions and is due to report back in the spring, is incredibly welcome.

In the course of my remarks, I will recommend how we can incentivise and drive demand, in order to plant more trees, create more green spaces and encourage biodiversity. Under the 25-year environment plan, £5.7 million has been made available to plant 1.8 million trees by 2025. In my constituency, Moor Trees has benefited from that to the tune of almost half a million pounds. Moor Trees is a local organisation, based just outside Totnes, that has planted 145,000 trees since its establishment—100% of which are native species—restoring 88 sites and relying on thousands of volunteers. The money that is being given to them does not just lead to the planting of more trees; it leads to the creation of new jobs and the establishment of new sites, where we can green and improve biodiversity in every shape and form.

It is important to understand the value and benefit that the Agriculture Act 2020 and the Fisheries Act 2020 will have in creating and restoring our countryside and our coastline. We will be able to sequester more carbon, to ensure that there is sustainability on land and at sea, and that we can do well by our farmers and fishermen. That is certainly something on which I know Luke Pollard would agree with me. All of these are elements that give us the chance and the opportunity to improve the productivity of our land and to ensure that those who do not live on it, but come on holidays or as visitors to the UK, can benefit from the beauty of what we have.

On carbon sequestration, we know that trees are an extremely effective way to sequester carbon but grassland goes with that too. By looking at new and innovative techniques, such as regenerative agriculture and no-till farming, we can help to marry up farming and tree planting as effective tools for lowering the emissions that are created by derelict countryside or out-of-date techniques.

We are all stewards of the land. The conversation that has been had today in this Chamber is not a new one. In fact, Disraeli spoke of the Disraeli feudal principle that we are all stewards of the land to pass it on to the next generation. We are making exactly the same important point today—that we must pass on our land to future generations in a better state than we received it. Many people across my constituency feel extremely strongly about that.

In the time that I have, I want to ask the Government to consider a few things to improve the level of tree planting, bearing in mind that the consultation is coming and that, I am sure, many of these submissions have been put forward. There must be an incentivisation programme for people to plant trees, whether they are a large landholder, a farmer or a small landholder of an allotment or a hedgerow. Whatever it may be, we must find a way to do that.

The use of common land, and what it can be used for, has been routinely overlooked. The historical right to graze on common land is no longer utilised in many cases. Can the Government look at a programme in which people are incentivised to plant trees and to restore common land to what it was before? How might we engage with those who do that?

The point has been well made by the National Farmers Union that taxation must never get in the way of those who are trying to plant trees. Agricultural property relief or business property relief may not be available to those who take away their land from farming and put it to tree planting. Would the Minister be kind enough to respond as to how we might get around that issue?

I also ask the Government to consider a volunteer programme. There is significant concern about our green spaces, and significant engagement on the issue, so will the Government work with hon. Members on both sides of the House to create a volunteer programme to ramp up tree planting and get people more engaged with local organisations, such as Moor Trees, in other hon. Members’ constituencies? There is an appetite for that. If we can do something like that, we will be able to meet, and go beyond, the target of 70,000 trees a year. In fact, if we recognise that we want 12% more of our country to be covered by trees by 2060, that would be a suitable way to do it.

I am very proud to be the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds champion for the cirl bunting. Quite why I am deserving of being a champion for the cirl bunting, I do not know, but I spend many happy moments walking the south-west coastal path in south Devon looking for it. I have yet to see it, but it is there; I have been told that I may have been looking at the wrong bird, which is a slight problem.

There is an important point to make about biodiversity. We know that if we improve our hedgerows and trees, we can improve biodiversity, which has been hit incredibly hard over the past 40 to 50 years. Let us use this opportunity to make sure that we are cultivating biodiversity by using natural species of trees and plants, to help to regrow and recultivate that wildlife.

Our green spaces must be maintained, whether in urban centres or in the rural countryside—that point was brilliantly made by Derek Twigg. The Minister has been a champion of the issue. I look forward to seeing what happens in the Environment Bill when it comes back before the House. I hope that she will work with us all to shape this opportunity to plant more trees and embody the opportunity to give future generations more green jspaces.

Photo of Kerry McCarthy Kerry McCarthy Shadow Minister (Transport) 10:03 am, 16th December 2020

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis on securing the debate. I am the parliamentary species champion for swifts, so I am in the slightly unusual position of campaigning for swift bricks, rather than trees, to protect their habitat; but we all recognise the importance of tree planting and rewilding. It is about not just making our towns and cities more pleasant places to live, but the benefits for physical and mental health of being able to get out into nature, as hon. Members have mentioned.

As has been said, planting more trees is absolutely central to efforts to address the climate change emergency, the ecological emergency and the devastating collapse in biodiversity that we have we seen, by providing natural carbon sinks and habitats for wildlife to flourish. As has been mentioned, it also prevents soil erosion and flooding. In the winter of 2015-16, when I went to some of our northern constituencies that had been badly affected by flooding, there was much discussion about the need to plant more trees to prevent soil erosion. I went to the constituency of my hon. Friend Rachael Maskell and talked to Yorkshire Water. It is about planting trees in the right place, as well. It is not just numbers that count but location and the type of tree.

Without natural climate solutions we have little hope of reaching net zero emissions or preventing further species decline. The issue is not limited to tree planting; peatlands and sea grass meadows are also vital carbon sinks. I give credit to the RSPB and the WWF for their recent work to raise the profile of those areas. I hope the Government will finally act in response to their campaigns.

However, we are here to talk about tree planting. The UK’s lack of ambition on this front in the past is reflected by the fact that we have 13% forest cover. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central said 12%. Whatever the precise figure, that is compared with an EU average of 40%, so clearly there is a lot more to be done. I welcome recent Government pledges on tree planting. As has been said, at the last election there was a race to outdo each other on the number of trees to be planted. The Government were bottom of the league table, pledging to plant only 30 million a year, while the Labour party was pledging to plant 100 million. I think we can all agree, if not on the precise number, that the ambition needs to be there.

I briefly want to mention my concern about deforestation overseas. We are here to talk about England’s tree strategy, but it is shocking to see the continued devastation in the Amazon rainforest, which is referred to as the lungs of the Earth, due to its immense capacity to convert carbon to oxygen. It faces an onslaught due to industrial agriculture, mining and forest fires linked to climate change. When the Environment Bill was in Committee we tried to add provisions to start measuring our global footprint and the links to deforestation in our supply chain.

While I am talking about the Environment Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central criticised its lack of focus on tree planting. I have a huge number of concerns about the Bill, not least that it has yet to become law. There will be a regulatory gap once we exit the transition period, with the Office for Environmental Protection not fully up and running and able to take enforcement action until July 2021, according to what I have heard. A chair has been appointed but no board has been recruited. We do not know about its budget or resources. How are we going to enforce regulations, not just stop people chopping down trees? We have already heard that there is going to be rowback on planning proposals, but there is still a real battle between the need to protect our natural environment and the desire to build more houses.

We have not had the right reassurances about how net gain and biodiversity offsetting will work, particularly over the long term. It is one thing to say that if trees are chopped down to build houses, more trees need to be planted elsewhere, but how can we be sure that, 10 years down the line, that woodland is protected and maintained? Who is responsible—the developer or the council? Who is held to account if the trees are not put in place? There are concerns about whether the regulators have the powers and resources to take such enforcement action.

A major driver of deforestation in this country, as in the Amazon, is land conversion for agricultural purposes. A key means to address that is agroforestry. I am pleased that, under the Agriculture Act, farmers will be rewarded for planting more trees and encouraging biodiversity on their land. There is a lot of evidence to show that if we plant trees and other plants among crops, rather than rigidly sticking to monocultures, we could improve conditions for crops and wildlife by creating nutrient-rich, complex ecosystems. A lot of people think that the countryside that we see as we go through it on a train—fields of grass, with cows grazing on them—is the natural environment, but it is not. That is not what our countryside should look like. It should be far more diverse, and there should be far more trees. I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on agroecology—if anyone wants to join, they are very welcome—and we have been campaigning for these things for a long time. Agroforestry should be an absolutely central part of any national tree-planting strategy.

All major landholders have a responsibility to try to do their bit. I have been asking questions at Church Commissioners questions, as the Church of England is one of the biggest landowners in this country. I was originally told that because so much of its land is high-grade agricultural land, it is not really suitable for planting trees, but the figures I have show that well under half of it is good-quality agricultural land, so the Church of England could do much more to plant trees, and the same goes for the Ministry of Defence. I hope that the Minister is doing what she can to encourage that.

In Bristol—I am a Bristol MP—we are leading the way on tree planting. We have a campaign to double Bristol’s tree canopy cover by planting 250,000 trees by 2030. The “one tree per child” campaign is part of that, and in 2015, when we were the European green capital, we managed to plant one tree for every primary school child in the city.

The Woodland Trust has been doing great work planting mini-orchards. One of my pet hates is when housing is developed, leaving green triangles everywhere—little bits of green space—or verges by the pavement. They are of no use for anything. People cannot sit on them and children cannot play on them. It is nothing but grass. The Woodland Trust has been helping to plant mini-orchards on some of those pieces of land, which makes a huge difference to the look and feel of a place. I hope to hear how the Minister plans to do more to empower local communities to push forward with those sort of tree-planting and rewilding programmes.

One of the upsides of covid, and of councils having less in the way of resources, is that they have not been mowing the grass in the same way, and we have seen biodiversity flourish. Some people think it looks scruffy, but I think most of us would agree that that is a massive improvement. I think we are all on the same page on this, but I would like to hear from the Minister how we will raise our ambitions and meet the targets that we have been talking about.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 10:12 am, 16th December 2020

I am grateful to be called in this really important debate. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions, not least my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis, who really has championed this cause. Talking of champions, I feel that I must put on the record the tansy beetle, which I have seen and cherish most dearly in York. It is known as the jewel of York.

The more we understand about the environmental emergency, the loss of biodiversity and the change to our climate, the more we understand the centrality of reparation, and that is what we are here to discuss. If we do not take action, we will see more flooding, more soil degradation, more carbon in our atmosphere, temperatures rising and global catastrophe. For that reason, I welcome the Government’s focus on trees. I know that the Minister is committed to that agenda, but she needs to be more ambitious and bolder. Her strategy must be cross-purpose and cross-departmental, and her plan must change minds.

On ambition, Labour committed to planting 300 million trees and investing £2.5 billion in our first term. We would have achieved a total of 1 billion trees by 2030, and 2 billion by 2040, to support the narrative that woodland growth is essential to a biodiversity shift. Labour would have reached 2 million hectares of new woodland by 2040, and 3 million hectares by 2050. That is what we mean by ambition.

Building a carbon-storage landscape in both urban and rural settings means rebuilding lost habitats, creating beautiful environments and, importantly, holding water and restoring soils. The Committee on Climate Change echoes the need for ambition if net zero is to be reached by 2050, although that is far too late. It says that woodland cover needs to rise from the current 13% to at least 17%, but 19% would be better. Friends of the Earth says that it should be 26%—double the current cover.

We have 3 billion trees in the country—I have not counted them, but I have that number on good authority. We must raise our game and plant 120 million trees every single year. However, if the Government had it their way, they would have planted only 900,000 hectares by 2050, and when they first came to power, they wanted to sell off our woodlands by privatising our forests—and they are light on ambition now, despite being armed with all the facts about the impact of tree planting.

How are the Government doing? Let us take last year. Some 13,460 hectares of new woodland was created in the UK. Just 17% of that was in England, and just 90 hectares was created by public bodies; 96.2% of planting in England was by the private sector. This is an abysmal record by the Government. They are committed to planting 30 hectares of new woodland in England; at that rate, we will be lucky to meet the Committee on Climate Change targets by the turn of the next century, and meet less than half of our ambitions. In England, the Government are hardly scratching the surface. Compare that with the coverage in France, where it is at 32%; Germany, where it is at 33%; and Spain, where it is at 37%. We have to pull our weight and look at the mitigation that forestry brings.

I welcome the Northern forest initiative, which will make such a difference to my constituency. It will provide new opportunities for work and a social setting, and is important for our landscape. The Labour group in York and I supported the White Rose forest from its inception, and I am glad that we have convinced our council to take planting seriously. Latterly, it has signed up to this initiative, and has purchased 150 acres to grow York community woodlands.

However, I urge the council to go further, particularly in the light of our flooding situation in York, which the Minister knows all about. We need to plant smartly alongside rivers to absorb the water that comes from those catchments. If we plant there, the water will be drawn deep into the roots and soil, which really will slow the flow. That is why it is so important that we have a proper, cross-purpose, joined-up strategy to ensure we maximise the benefits of planting. Also, the canopy stops water hitting the ground as fast, and can bring a real reduction in run-off. In fact, some predict a reduction of up to 80% compared with hardcore land. It is therefore really important to transform surfaces around rivers into green spaces, and then plant there.

York also suffers from poor air quality. It is in the Vale of York, and the topography means that the air is held there—and therefore pollution is, too. We need to ensure that our urban spaces are well planted. This clashes with the Government’s plan to build on brownfield sites. I urge the Minister to look at land swaps, so that brownfield sites can become greenfield sites again, and perhaps other areas can be used in environmentally sensitive ways for development. This will bring more of those green lungs into the centre of our conurbations. That is much needed, not only for the health benefits, but for the social and mental health benefits. A benefit of not having transport in York city centre is that it reduced nitrogen dioxide levels significantly: they dropped 47%, which is the eighth largest fall in the country. However, while planting can help with mitigation, it cannot be seen as the only measure. I therefore call on the Minister to work cross-departmentally, in particular with the Department for Transport, to construct environments that are robust, and protect our health in cities and conurbations in the future.

I call on the Minister, when looking at tree planting and transport, to consider the Government’s road-building programme. The environmental assessment is poor or non-existent; the impact will be catastrophic for our environment. Likewise, there is High Speed 2. I tried to amend the HS2 Bill to protect the environment. Chris Packham beautifully described the 108 ancient woodlands that will be destroyed under the Bill as “cathedrals of biodiversity” that will be lost. We would not do that to our cathedrals, so we need to look again at what we are doing to our ancient woodlands. Perhaps the need for speed can be reassessed, given the need to secure those ancient woodlands.

Woodlands are also healers of our poor physical and mental health—gymnasiums to mitigate poor health. They cannot be just about rural landscapes; they are about urban landscapes, too. England’s tree strategy must look at urban as well as rural areas, because for the poorest people in our communities, access to our countryside is often limited.

Finally, I want to talk about changing minds. When I talk to children, they get it; they understand the connectivity between nature and their wellbeing, and they know that this is the right thing to do. We have an immense challenge in bringing about behavioural change, and to convincing developers and others of the importance of investment in our future bio-economy. We need to ensure that hardwired into the “Planning for the Future” White Paper, which is under consultation, is a tree plan; it should be at the heart of where we are going, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central said. We need to recognise that hardcore planning is as significant, if not more so, than environmental planning when it comes to trees.

We need to get the balance right. At the moment, it feels as if it is tipped against nature, and we need to pull that back. After today’s debate, as we head towards COP26, I hope that the Government will wake up to the climate challenge, and challenge themselves, now more than ever.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:22 pm, 16th December 2020

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.

I thank Dan Jarvis for setting the scene well, as he so often does in both the main Chamber and Westminster Hall. I thank everyone for their considerable contributions so far, and I am very much looking forward to the speeches of the shadow Minister and the Minister, who is appropriately dressed for the occasion; in a forest, we would not even know she was there, such is her colour scheme. It is lovely to see her, and I look forward to hearing what she has to say.

As a country sports enthusiast, conservation is something I am passionate about. I am not a tree-hugger, but I tell you what: I love trees. Over the past few years, I have planted a large number of trees—approximately 3,500—on the land that we own back home. That is a small part to play, but I am pleased to do it. Planting those trees has restored the bird, plant and insect life referred to by the hon. Members for Barnsley Central, and for Halton (Derek Twigg).

Keeping some trees in the corners of fields creates a habitat that encourages birds. Anthony Mangnall, an RSPB champion, referred to the cirl bunting. In my constituency, the yellowhammer has returned in numbers to our farm—and the surrounding farms, because I am not the only person doing this; it is also thanks to the efforts of Vi Calvert and her late husband Michael, who neighbour my land, as well as Lord Dunleath in Ballywalter, and Daphne and Bill Montgomery in Grey Abbey. They have made it happen. They were able to, but that is not the point; the point is that they have done it. They make a direct contribution to tree-planting.

To be honest, one of the reasons why I plant trees—I say this unashamedly—is that I love shooting. I hope that those trees will produce pigeons. When they produce pigeons, I will be more than happy, so there is a purpose in what I am doing. At the end of the day, it also means that I can hand over those trees and that land to my eldest son and my grandchildren. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central referred to the Chinese proverb, “If you want to plant a tree, you should have done so 20 years ago.” We did that nearly 20 years ago, so we are now seeing them grow, but I do say to myself, “I wish I had planted trees over there, too, so I could see them grow in my lifetime.” However, my family, after me, will see them.

Northern Ireland has the lowest number of trees planted in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We have a target to achieve. I was encouraged last week to hear that the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, alongside the Woodland Trust and Northern Ireland Water, have committed to planting 1 million trees in the next 10 years. It is part of a broader plan to plant 18 million trees in the next 10 years. That is fantastic, but it is only an extra 1% of trees. We must do more to catch up. DAERA is doing that, but it is important that other Departments do the same if they can.

Northern Ireland Water is Northern Ireland’s second-largest landowner. It is good to see its commitment. I encourage others to recognise that planting trees improves water quality, captures carbon, mitigates flooding and enhances the natural environment. The Minister has spoken about flooding on many occasions, and hon. Members have asked about planting trees to prevent flooding. Those things are really important.

Most people agree that we are in a combined climate and biodiversity crisis. We must recognise where we are. This is not just about new trees; we must see this as an opportunity to improve the protection, restoration and management of woods. The two planting schemes that I have been involved with have been educational tree planting in primary and secondary schools in the area. To mark an occasion, we plant a few trees. Those projects, carried out with the Woodland Trust and others, ensure that trees become part of children’s way of life, from an early age through to their later years. The hon. Member for Barnsley Central mentioned that trees have become a greater part of our lives now that we are walking perhaps more than we ever did. I am fortunate in that I can go for a walk on the land behind me and on my neighbour’s land whenever I want, but not everybody can do that.

Having spoken to experts at the Woodland Trust, it is clear that while Northern Ireland Water and Northern Ireland are heading in the right direction, we need to be more ambitious. The Northern Ireland forestry strategy for sustainable growth, published in 2006, set out a plan to double woodland cover from 6% to 12% by 2050. By 2020, we moved to 8%. the Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister announced the “Forests for Our Future” programme in March 2020, which seeks to plant 18 million trees across 900 hectares by 2030. We are told that will amount to an additional 1% of coverage. Although that seems unambitious against the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations, it sets the direction of travel—we are going from 200 hectares to 900 hectares. As I said, that is only 1%, so it is important that we try to do more. The Government in Northern Ireland are doing their bit. It is up to the landowners to do something, too. It is a bold first move to suggest quadrupling planting rates.

The Woodland Trust has commended the DAERA Minister for his ambitious reworking of the grant programme to incentivise landowners to convert to woodland. Perhaps the Minister here can give us some idea of the grant scheme available to landowners and farmers, to incentivise them to do that. The condition of planting trees back home is that they cannot be cut down for 30 years. I never cut mine down; I hope they will live as healthy a life as they can. To meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change targets, ambitions need to be much bolder, and a renewed tree strategy should be developed as a pillar of the plans to decarbonise; it is important that we reach that target.

To conclude, the future agricultural payment schemes replacing the common agricultural policy will be pivotal in delivery of trees in the farmed landscape. The message is that a UK-wide approach will benefit all the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We want to address this issue in the best way. As on all the other issues we speak about—I say this very honestly, Mr Hollobone; you know where I come from—we are better, stronger and always more effective together.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

We now come to the Front-Bench speeches. I call Luke Pollard for Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:30 am, 16th December 2020

I congratulate my hon. Friend Dan Jarvis on proposing the debate and for speaking so eloquently about the need not only to plant more trees but to plant the right trees in the right place as well.

Whether you are a tree-hugger or not a tree-hugger, as Jim Shannon described himself, a towering oak of insight or a little bush of enthusiasm, to borrow the words of Anthony Mangnall, this has been a good debate. The message the Minister needs to take from it is that we are all willing her on to greater ambition for tree planting.

There is much cutting and pasting of environmental soundbites, often three-word statements like build back better, green industrial revolution, green new deal. What we need is the policy and delivery to be stapled to those soundbites. We have heard today a cross-party endorsement of the need for delivery and ambition to be combined if we are to achieve the level of tree planting that we all want to see in this country. We are in a climate and ecological emergency. Members from all parties have highlighted not only the benefits that come from tree planting in carbon sequestration and biodiversity gain, but the benefits to mental health and wellbeing that were so clearly articulated by my hon. Friend in his opening remarks.

The benefits of tree planting are immense. Scientists predict that a worldwide tree planting programme could remove two thirds of all emissions from human activities that remain in the atmosphere today. The University of Exeter—a university proudly in my neck of the woods in the south-west—has found that, overall, people living in green urban areas were displaying fewer signs of depression or anxiety. Trees really are a cure-all medicine. They are good for our mental health, our physical health and the health of our planet. Coronavirus has shown what really matters to people and what people value. Family, friends, community, health and nature have been what I find people in Plymouth have really valued and are focusing more on for next year. The connection with nature is really important.

Every tree matters. Labour has always been ambitious when it comes to our plans for tree planting. We want to see 1 billion new trees planted across Britain by 2030 and 2 billion by 2040, not just rows and rows of conifers, not just trees for commercial use, but a wide variety of species, deciduous and evergreen, British native species and the best varieties from around the world, adding to our rich tapestry of biodiversity. We must plant the right trees in the right places and make sure they are accessible for us all to enjoy.

We all know that we are living in a climate emergency, but too often we forget that we are living in an ecological emergency as well. To tackle the climate crisis and cut carbon, we need new forests, salt marshes and peat bogs too. We need to value biodiversity, deal with species loss and habitat loss and make sure that we are championing not only totemic, iconic species in Britain, such as badgers and so on, but insects such as beetles, little birds, and all the fantastic variety in our animal kingdom. Nature is one of our greenest allies in defending the world from climate breakdown and it is important that we use it now.

It is safe to say that the England tree plan the Government are consulting on is unambitious at best and disappointing at worst. As my hon. Friend rightly said, there is no formal way to set targets in England; that might be something the Minister will want to take on board from this debate. We need to know what success looks like, whether our tree planting efforts are going in the right direction, at the pace required, how many trees are being planted and, importantly, how many trees we are losing along the way. The Government have set out the need to plant more but do not record how many we lose, so we are only really measuring one side of that equation. We need to look at both sides if we are to make this work.

The contributions to the debate have been excellent. My hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy and I share a love of swift bricks. They may just be breeze blocks with holes in, but they are a present that should be sent to every major housebuilding developer over the Christmas season, because building back better must also mean building nature into our new developments. That means not only the correct level of planting, but building birdlife and the life of nature into that opportunity.

My hon. Friend Rachael Maskell set out the ambition very clearly when she talked about the need for an English ambition in this respect. There have been no contributors from Scotland today, but if we look at the level of tree planting in Scotland, we see that the heavy burden Scotland is carrying for the United Kingdom is obscuring the lack of delivery in England. The focus on English ambition that my hon. Friend spoke about is very important, as is the role of tree planting in providing nature-based solutions for flood alleviation. That is especially important in the areas that have been hardest hit by floods, including York in recent years.

The balance being tipped against nature is a very good way of describing our planning system. Will the Minister speak to her colleagues in the Treasury about where the Dasgupta review has got to? The Government started a review of the economic value of biodiversity, which sounds like a very Conservative thing to do—putting a value in pounds, shillings and pence on everything—but there is a real logic to it. Not valuing biodiversity in the economic decisions we make effectively means that nature is worthless in those decisions. We have seen an interim report from the Treasury on the Dasgupta review, which I think in most cases pointed in the right direction, but we do not have a timetable for when the final report will be published. A timetable would be useful.

Chris Clarkson spoke passionately, echoing the remarks by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central, about the importance of the Northern forest. Setting up tree planting in a way that is accessible to people is a really important part of what we have to achieve. Rows and rows of conifers, as I described them, are really important for our commercial forestry business, and we need that business to improve because Britain is a huge importer of wood when we should be growing and using more wood of our own; but we also need to ensure that tree planting is accessible because woodland can make a really big difference to both our mental health and physical health. Awareness of that needs to be baked in to our environment policy.

My hon. Friend Derek Twigg described the situation very well when he argued the case for councils to be at the forefront of rewooding. Borrowing the very good description of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central, the process should be town hall-led and not Whitehall-driven. The idea that every town should have a new wood is also important. I support the National Trust’s campaign to ensure that everyone lives within 10 minutes’ walk of a green space, but as well as what constitutes a green space, we should consider what the nature-rich environment is that we want to create in our urban areas, and in our semi-rural areas as well—living near a field does not mean living near accessible nature. We must remember that ensuring there is more accessible nature for all communities is important.

The hon. Member for Totnes is always good value in these debates and I enjoyed his remarks this morning. The cirl bunting is a really important bird, as are many of the birds along the south coast of Devon, extending from Plymouth into Cornwall. The challenge around common land tree planting is an interesting one, but it has not been raised in the debate so far. I encourage the hon. Gentleman to continue to ask questions about how that challenge can be addressed. There is a good case for preserving the values of common land and its accessibility, so there is a good campaign in the making.

In Plymouth, we fought hard against the initial plans from David Cameron to sell off our forests. I led the campaign to save Cann Wood from being sold, and it is now reaping the benefits of people really valuing it precisely because it was almost lost. That is something that we should consider. Plymouth already has one of the largest canopy covers of any city of its size, and with the Woodland Trust our Labour council has put together an exciting plan for trees, which is a model of best practice. We want to plant a bare minimum of nearly 3,000 trees across 67 locations in addition to the 30,000 street trees and 100 hectares of woodland that Plymouth already has.

Planting the right trees in the right place is important, especially when we look at the root growth pattern of different species. There are far too many communities in our country that are blighted by unlevel pavements because of poor decisions about which species of tree to plant in which area, and too many people are dying unnecessarily in accidents because trees have been planted near relatively high-speed roads. Trees are not frangible and reflect the impact of any collision straight away, so there is much to be done in that regard, too.

I should also celebrate the arrival of Plymouth’s first beaver in hundreds of years. We will need to plant some more trees to cope with our little friend the beaver and its efforts to dam up the river around Forder valley, which is an important part of our flood prevention strategy. This is a source of much concern. The boy beaver that we have will be joined by a girl beaver in the new year, so they can have lots of little beavers.

Ancient woodland is a really important part of the debate, because once lost it can never be replaced. Only 3% of our land is ancient woodland. I want the England tree strategy to commit to preventing any further loss and to restoration of all plantation on ancient woodland sites along the way. The amendment attempted by Labour to the High Speed 2 legislation to include statutory reporting on the impact on ancient woodland in the construction process was an important contribution. I am pleased that the Government accepted that, but I have to say to Ministers that there is much more work to be done in that respect, and much good will was lost because of the decisions taken by Ministers.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East spoke about seagrass. I am not an official champion for seagrass, but as someone who has taken it to heart, I will say that we need to recognise that seagrass and kelp forests have an important part to play in carbon sequestration; they are 30 times more effective than the equivalent tree planting on land. Our ambition on land must be matched by our ambition in the marine environment. That is really important.

Ministers’ ambitions for increased tree planting and the England tree strategy must be truly cross-departmental. Highways England, Network Rail and other public bodies must have the same ambition baked into their particular values. What we have heard today should leave the Minister in no doubt that we want her to succeed in the level of tree planting that she has committed to, and to go much, much further.

Photo of Rebecca Pow Rebecca Pow The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 10:41 am, 16th December 2020

It is an absolute pleasure to be having this debate with you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. What a veritable forest of parliamentary tree-huggers and lovers we have in the room! We have so much in common when we talk about trees. I like to argue with the shadow Minister, Luke Pollard, but that is quite difficult on this subject, although I will try on a couple of points.

Of course, I have to thank Dan Jarvis for securing this debate about tree planting and the all-encompassing things that trees bring to us and to our lives. Planting more trees in England and protecting our existing woodlands are a key part of the Government’s plan to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

I said that I was not going to get feisty, but I will get this off my chest. We do not just talk about tree planting numbers. We have the national forest inventory, which looks at all tree planting and forestation, so it is not right to say that we talk only about the numbers of trees. Just as important to us is protecting the standing trees. This is not just about individual tree planting numbers.

I absolutely agree with the shadow Minister on the importance of planting the right tree in the right place and how we can do much more to sequester carbon and deliver all the multiple benefits that trees provide us with. That is why the Government’s ambitious “Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution” clearly sets out our commitment to plant 30,000 hectares of trees every year in the UK by 2025, protecting and restoring our natural environment, but also creating jobs. A number of hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, suggested that we are not being ambitious. I say that this plan absolutely demonstrates our ambition. This is not just a game of numbers and writing random numbers on the board; we are setting out the process and methods by which we will actually be able to plant the trees. That is the key thing, because it is not straightforward. We have to harness the good will of all the landowners in this country and all the other people involved. As Kerry McCarthy said, there are various big land owners, including the Church and the Ministry of Defence. Those are all important.

I think that we do have the ambition. We are committed to what I would say is a step change in how we work, and we are working closely with devolved Administrations, which is really important as well. Yes, Scotland is planting a great many trees, but it has different terrain, so people are not always comparing like with like. We have to work together on this.

We are exploring whether a statutory target for trees in England would be appropriate under the target-setting process that we have set out in the Environment Bill, which has just been through Committee. The hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport will know, if he has listened to the Committee’s proceedings, what that process is and what it will enable. We can set a target on anything we think is the right thing to do for the environment. Certainly, we can explore whether we need targets for trees, which is tremendously exciting, because we have not had that opportunity before—that is why the Environment Bill is so great. I applaud Northern Ireland and Jim Shannon on the new target that has been announced for how many trees will be planted in Northern Ireland, which is to be welcomed.

We welcome the advice of the Committee on Climate Change and we will carefully consider its recommendations as we set out our sixth carbon budget. Our nature for climate fund will invest £640 million in driving up nature-based solutions, including supporting our ambitious tree planting programme. It will be underpinned by the imminent and much talked about England tree strategy, which will be published in spring, as has been referenced.

Today’s debate is timely because Lord Goldsmith, the Minister responsible for trees, with whom I work closely because trees obviously have an impact on everything to do with the environment, is hosting a roundtable right now to discuss the strategy’s development. A great deal of work continues on that.

We have an opportunity, as the hon. Member for Barnsley Central rightly said, to harness this moment and have an exciting new way of thinking about trees. Over the summer, we consulted on the England tree strategy. We received more than 20,000 responses, which reflects the interest in this area and the importance placed on trees. I thank every single body and organisation that contributed to that consultation. We have a vision that will set out what we want England’s treescape to look like for future generations and how we deliver the goal set out in our 25-year environment plan.

As many hon. Members have said, trees and woodlands can deliver multiple benefits, not least for nature and biodiversity. We have heard so much about biodiversity, not least from our cirl bunting champion, my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall. Cirl buntings actually live in the more arable lands that we get around the coast, but that is not say that we cannot talk about them in a tree debate, because it is all about biodiversity. We need well-designed new woodlands, supported by long-term management, to help nature’s recovery.

Through our new environmental land management scheme, landowners and managers will be able to integrate trees into the landscape, which will contribute to the nature recovery networks for which there are many measures of support in the Environment Bill, and be able to support the Government’s commitment—another big Government commitment—to 30% of our land being protected by 2030.

On top of our future schemes, I encourage any farmer or landowner considering tree planting to sign up to the countryside stewardship grants now, if they have not done so already, or to extend their schemes, because those will enable them to transition to the new environmental land management scheme if they choose to in future. We already have a range of grants to encourage woodland planting, but we will be opening new grants for woodland creation in spring, with money from the nature for climate fund, which is designed to do just that.

Trees and woodlands can deliver for water and soil. We know, for example, that trees can make an important contribution to natural flood management, as we have heard from several hon. Members, particularly Rachael Maskell. We have supported that through £5.7 million of funding in the Northern forest. Linked to that, £700,000 has been allocated to Leeds City Council for its flood alleviation scheme to help to prevent future flooding incidents in Leeds through the creation of woodlands higher up the steep-sided valleys known as cloughs. That is exactly what many hon. Members have been suggesting. Work is under way, and hopefully we will see a great deal more of it.

We are also exploring opportunities to support tree planting and woodland creation along rivers, to create riparian woodlands. We hope that the beavers will not come and gnaw them all down—beavers are very useful in one way, but not when it comes to that. It is a carefully controlled management tool that we have to work into all our processes of thinking. Woody buffer strips along waterways can be helpful in many ways.

Lord Goldsmith and I have been engaging with a number of experts and specialists who have illustrated the variety of that kind of planting, which can help our aquatic environment, mitigate flooding, and help us meet our net-zero targets. The Environment Agency has already been awarded £1.4 million from the nature for climate fund to support projects that will plant more than 850,000 trees and protect and enhance 162 km of river.

We know that tree planting is not suitable for all locations, so we will work to ensure that the vision showcases how we can deliver tree planting that is sensitive to protected landscapes and complements our heritage. We obviously need to ensure they work in harmony with habitats such as our peat lands and the uplands, and we will link up with the peat strategy to ensure that we have the trees in the right place.

A number of Members mentioned management issues with trees. Managing pests, deer and grey squirrels is obviously important if we want to maintain trees and biodiversity, as is managing outbreaks of disease, such as the devastating ash dieback, which has been mentioned. I went up to the Quantocks near me the other day, and I nearly cried; it was so devastating. I took photographs—I am always sending them to my team—of how devastating that disease is and what an impact it is going to have. The Government have already set up a nursery that is growing saplings that might be resistant. A lot of work is going on at pace to make sure we can address this, because it is so important.

Derek Twigg mentioned the horticultural nursery industry, and I think he will welcome the fact that, back in the summer, we announced a £2 million partnership of investment to work up domestic nursery capacity to provide the trees that we will need. That is obviously really important.

This is not just about woodlands, though; it is also about hedgerows and shelter belts. We have already taken some actions: we have allocated £2.5 million from the shared outcomes fund to encourage tree planting outside woodlands, and we have announced that we are introducing guidance for local authorities to do their own tree and woodland strategies. I was really interested to hear about Barnsley Council’s tree strategy. Lots of local authorities are working in that way, and it is great to be proactive. They know their areas and where they would like to have the trees.

Trees on farms are also really important. I grew up on a farm and have planted many trees, as has my dad; he has owl boxes and bird boxes all over the place. Those trees are now little woods, so that shows that if we get on with it, it is worth it. I hope the hon. Member for Bristol East will welcome the fact that we have just released guidance on how agroforestry, which integrates trees into the farm landscape, as she eloquently outlined, can be eligible for the basic payment scheme. I agree that could make a really big contribution to our landscapes.

Many hon. Members mentioned urban trees, not least my hon. Friend Chris Clarkson—I congratulate him on his success with his ten-minute rule Bill. The Government listened, so what a great start. Sit down now—excellent work! I also have to congratulate him on his Latin pronunciation. He made so many good points. Urban trees are so important and will play a part, as will community, forest and parkland trees, which have multiple benefits. We have spent £10 million on the urban tree challenge fund, which has planted just over 18,000 trees across towns and cities to date. We will be continuing with that funding.

On top of that, we are supporting urban tree planting through the green recovery challenge fund. My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes mentioned the planting of 145,000 trees over 88 sites—I think a lot of that came from funding—and I congratulate him on that. That is the model that others should follow, so I hope they keep up the great work.

On the green recovery challenge fund, Earthwatch has recently received funding to plant tiny forests the size of tennis courts. I am a tennis player and I still want some tennis courts, but that is a great idea. Earthwatch has just got an allocation from the new fund that the Government launched, and that will also help with jobs in that world. The forests will connect our communities to trees.

I want to touch on the net gain point that was raised. Developers will be responsible for maintaining the new woodlands that they create through the net gain process. Under the Environment Bill, every developer will have to put back 10% more nature than was there when it started and will have to look after it for 30 years.

The pandemic has highlighted more than ever the importance of nature to our health and wellbeing; many people in this Chamber have touched on that today. That, too, is recognised in our vision for trees, particularly through the community woodlands and the urban and peri-urban planting. As I have set out, we are supporting the existing Northern forest partnership of the community forest and the Woodland Trust. It is a brilliant partnership. The investment is funding the planting of at least 1.8 million new trees across the Northern forest. I applaud the hon. Member for Barnsley Central for being there at the start and then at the millionth tree. The Government are utterly committed to the project.

Hot on the heels of the Northern forest comes the new Northumberland forestry partnership, which will facilitate tree planting in Northumberland. I hope that will help to address the need for more trees in the north. We are doing that at pace. The new nature for climate fund announced £12 million for community forests. The new trees for climate programme will see more than 500 hectares of trees planted in 10 community forests across the country within the next so many months, so that is moving at pace.

Who will plant these new trees? We will need to inspire a generation of foresters. [Interruption.] The Chair is indicating that I need to wind up, so I will do so by answering a couple of questions. I thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central for his letter to the Secretary of State; he will receive a reply. On the nine shovel-ready projects, I urge him to look at the £200 million innovation fund that opens in January, so will he please apply? Obviously, we will work with all those people to bring all that forward.

Ancient woodlands are hugely important to us, so we have given them extra protection. I had a great visit the other day in Fingle Woods, Dartmoor, where we have provided another fund to help manage that woodland and bring forward new skills to train foresters and sawmill owners, and to provide portable sawmills. There are all kinds of new opportunities in timber. Yes, we need to grow more at home, and yes, we need to use more at home.

I shall wind up, Mr Hollobone, because I know you want me to. I thank the hon. Member for Barnsley Central for securing this debate. There is a huge amount of synergy in the room. We are totally committed to our tree strategy. I am going home this weekend to plant an amelanchier—a beautiful garden tree that Lord Goldsmith gave me for my birthday. I am going to start this weekend, and I urge every Member to do the same, including the Chair. I look forward to working with the hon. Member for Barnsley Central as a champion of COP26. I am sure there is a lot more that we will be able to discuss.

Photo of Dan Jarvis Dan Jarvis Labour, Barnsley Central 10:58 am, 16th December 2020

This has been a really useful and constructive debate. I am grateful to all Members for their contributions. It has been great to hear about local environmental projects, and of course I am hugely encouraged by the support that exists for the Northern forest. The shadow Minister said that we are willing the Minister on, and we are. There is real agreement that planting trees is a key part of our efforts to address climate change in the biodiversity collapse. The England tree strategy represents an important opportunity to rethink our approach to planting trees and to tree cover.

On the point about targets, what gets measured gets done, so I encourage the Minister to be bold. Given the climate emergency that we all know we are living through, we need to get on with this. Ahead of the COP26 conference next year, there is a really important opportunity to champion nature-based solutions and to show real global leadership, so I hope the Government will meet the moment with the urgency it deserves.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the National Tree Strategy.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

Order. In order to allow the safe exit of hon. Members participating in this item of business and the safe arrival of those participating in the next, I am suspending the sitting for two minutes. I urge hon. Members to leave by the exit door on the left as quickly as possible.

Sitting suspended.