With COP23 in Bonn approaching from 6th November, Suzi Martineau, Organiser of The Tree Conference – to be Livestreamed from Glastonbury on 4th November – presents five questions about trees, crucial to the UK conversation about Climate Change
At the UN Climate Change Conference, COP23, taking place in Bonn from 6th – 17th November, world governments will converge with renewed determination to put last year’s COP22 Paris goal of keeping global warming below 2%C, into action.
COP23 will focus on activities with the potential to curb and reduce carbon emissions, including forestry and other land use activities. And as the UK government continues to review our National Planning Policy for the future use of our land post BREXIT, Suzi Martineau, Organiser of the upcoming Tree Conference in Glastonbury on Saturday 4th November – to be broadcast globally via Livestream – asks five questions about trees to be debated at the event, of fundamental importance to the conversation about climate change and the future health of the UK’s forests and ecosystems.
- What percentage forest cover do we need in the British Isles and by when?
The UK, a country with high carbon emissions, currently has approximately 12% canopy cover, with 10% in England and 18% in Scotland. Ireland is down to 1% of its ancient woodland. The government has pledged to plant 11 million trees in the next two years equating to an increase of around 0.05% cover. When you consider that other European countries have between 32% and 76% forest cover, it’s clear we could be doing better, allowing our seas, insect populations and ecosystems to benefit at the same time. Planting trees is not the only way to sequester our carbon emissions, working with the soil also makes a vital contribution as well as curbing emissions. Kyoto Protocol has set targets for reducing emissions by 2050, but should we be focusing on addressing the balance before then?
- What stands in the way of increasing tree coverage in the UK?
While there is a lot of good will towards protecting ancient forests and increasing tree cover all over the world, there are also a number of obstacles preventing this from happening. Historically (20-21st Century) the extent of tree planting in the UK has been determined by the availability of Government ‘grants in aid’; these were ‘generous’ in the 50s and 60s leading to a surge in the extent of afforestation but more recently stopped, meaning that planting rates have become insufficient to balance rates of felling. Other factors include: the tendency towards a ‘short-term’ approach to governance, land management and ownership in the UK which often overlooks the needs of future generations; the economic growth plans of certain businesses and financial systems; and resistance to reforestation at regional, national and international policy levels. One Woodland Trust petition entrant recently pointed out that it would be easier to rebuild St Paul’s Cathedral than to recreate the full majesty of an ancient woodland.
- What are the most useful ways of planting trees in the UK to support our ecosystems?
There are many ways of planting trees that support our ecosystems in different ways. These can include: the cultivation of trees through agroforestry which secures top soil; utilising new grants for woodland creation; planting trees in cities to help clear the run-off from toxins and to treat sewage; and planting in wetlands to create flood defenses. Furthermore, innovative theories for food production which have been labelled fringe are actually very effective and nature supporting, including biodynamics and permaculture. We need to ask ourselves which methods of planting best sustain our ecosystems.
- Which trees should we be planting more of and why?
The debate around the planting of Conifer forests in this country versus focusing on native deciduous woodland often divides foresters and conservationists who are otherwise great tree planting bedfellows. While Conifer plantations can sequester carbon quicker, conservationists favour creating biodiverse woodland in keeping with the needs of our native wildlife and soil. Beyond the Conifer/broadleaf debate, there are other important questions. Do we keep on planting Ash and Chestnut despite their health challenges? Do we plant to replace Elm with equally tall trees, such as Service trees? The many biochemical medicinal benefits of different trees are important to take into account, as highlighted in the research of tree scientist Diana Beresford-Kroeger – such as the anti-viral capacities of Elderberries and the boost to cattle immune systems afforded by Hawthorn berries. What medicines do different trees bring to their surrounding habitats, and what should our priorities be?
- Are trees sentient?
Several of the artworks being displayed at The Tree Conference art exhibition evoke the sentient perceptions of the trees themselves. Yet many scientists don’t acknowledge this capacity in trees and separate plants from animals on the basis that they don’t appear to have any of the structural, physiological or psychological attributes that provide ‘sentience’. However, a new film called TAWAI: a voice from the Forest by BBC explorer Bruce Parry – who will be talking at The Tree Conference – features an indigenous group living in the Amazon who say that they receive messages directly from the forest. “The trees, they say, have spoken to them, and the messages are as tragic as they are poignant,” Bruce Parry says. “TAWAI has recorded some of these testimonies for us all to ponder, and, I believe, dismiss at our peril.” Do trees have important ideas to share with us? And could growing evidence for the consciousness of trees be represented in law?
Suzi Martineau says: “Trees are the lifeline of our planet and one of the keys to reversing climate change. I believe these five questions about trees are really important for us all to reflect on to enable us to better support our ecosystems and the beautiful natural world we live in. The Tree Conference would love to hear your answers to these questions. If you’d like to share your responses, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, along with a few words about yourself (approximately 50 words). Your answers will help to feed our conference discussions on the day and inform the outcomes we take forward as our strategy.”
For more information, to book your tickets, and to sign up to watch The Tree Conference via Livestream, visit:www.thetreeconference.com