RADNORSHIRE WILDLIFE TRUST: TREES AND CLIMATE CHANGE POLICY
The last 24 months has seen a surge in public awareness, understanding and expectation for action on climate change and biodiversity declines. As we see the impacts of our changing climate around and the world and close to home, addressing climate change and reversing loss of nature is increasingly becoming a priority for the people of Radnorshire and Powys. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many people’s priorities, giving us pause for thought, highlighting how communities can respond together; people are realising that change is possible and that community movements are powerful drivers in this.
Powys County Council declared a climate emergency in September 2020 and made a commitment to attain carbon neutrality by 2030. RWT fully support this declaration and are working with Powys County Council on climate and ecological projects.
RWT would welcome the declaration of an ecological emergency by Powys County Council as we believe that the loss of nature should be given an equal and opposite weighting as the problems and solutions to both are interwoven.
Trees are recognised as being very efficient at sequestering carbon, so the option of tree planting to help address climate change is being widely promoted, with different public bodies and organisations setting challenging targets. In addition to storing carbon, trees can help to ameliorate air pollution, mitigate flooding and aid soil retention and water cycling.
Trees can also be fantastic for wildlife, supporting fungi, mosses, lichens, invertebrate, birds and mammals. They can enrich existing wild places and provide essential stepping stones to allow wildlife to move through our countryside. But - only if the right trees are established in the right places. Planting the wrong trees in the wrong places can cause severe environmental damage to valuable peat bogs and soils, wetland and grassland habitats, degrade existing woodland habitats, impact ground nesting birds and will fail to gain the greatest benefit for wildlife.
Radnorshire Wildlife Trust support the planting and establishment of the right trees, in the right places and is issuing this policy statement to support and guide tree planting and establishment initiatives across Radnorshire to help maximise the benefits for wildlife and people. At this time of great change and opportunity we must ensure that people have the support to make the best choices for both wildlife and climate. Several recent tree planting schemes, while well intentioned, have caused more harm to our environment than good. See here: https://www.itv.com/news/border/2020-11-16/forestry-commission-admit-mistakes-in-peat-bog-row & https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cumbria-51587820
- Policy Statement
The UK urgently needs to increase its woodland cover. The UK has the lowest woodland cover in Europe, at 13%, of which only 2% is ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW). Wales fairs better than England (10% cover) with 15% total woodland cover and around 3% is ancient semi-natural woodland.
In Powys we have 29,263 ha of broadleaved woodland and 38,122 ha of coniferous woodland. Statistics on the total resource of semi natural ancient woodland are not available.
Of a total woodland network (trees and woodland) of 194,000Ha, 165,000Ha is functionally connected, the rest being core woodland area. We do know that 9,200Ha is designated for its nature conservation interest – this is 5% of the total approx. RWT believe that Radnorshire should aim to increase its tree cover (individual trees outside woodland and woodlands) by at least 50% by 2030, achieved through planting in our towns and villages, as hedgerow, in-field trees in both upland and lowland areas, and as new woodlands and wood pasture and through the establishment of more ffridd. Species poor grassland should be targeted and the Powys opportunity maps BIS :: Powys Nature Recovery Action Plan should be used to guide planting of woodland.
RWT believe that establishing new trees and woodlands should be a big part of the action to deliver nature’s recovery and help mitigate the impacts of climate change. RWT wants this to bring the maximum gain for wildlife. Mosaics of wooded and open habitats can play an important role in re-building wildlife networks so important to climate change resilience for much of our native wildlife; this aim will be a key driver within Nature Recovery Networks and achieving the target of 30% of land being managed for wildlife by 2030.
Whilst understanding the drive to plant trees to be seen to achieve measurable targets, RWT believe that increasing our tree cover should also be achieved by protecting young and growing trees, promoting and protecting existing saplings and through new natural regeneration. So, we should be thinking about tree establishment and protection not just tree planting.
So – where is the right place?
In 2010 Professor John Lawton produced a paper for the Government called ‘Making Space for Nature’. This established 4 main principles for improving wildlife, which are still the guiding principles for Nature Recovery Networks. They summarise as: more, bigger, better and better connected. So, make sure that your planting meets these principles, helping wildlife spread naturally through the landscape. Here are some good places to choose:
- Trees in themselves do not equal a woodland with all the associated benefits for wildlife or nature based solutions, woodland layers including open habitats are an essential component. Woodland design and future management should be considered prior to new woodland establishment.
- On the fringes of existing woodland to extend the woodland and for rapid colonisation by other woodland species (but check that this isn’t on species rich-grassland or wetlands etc). Do not automatically plant up to the boundary. Consider leaving a woodland “ride” where appropriate to retain existing wildlife rich woodland edge habitat.
- In places where the new woodland will have good links to existing hedgerows, wood pasture or ffridd or provide good stepping stones between existing woodlands.
- Plant fruit trees in the gaps in our traditional orchards to extend the life of the orchard. Fruit trees are excellent for wildlife and provide fruit. Plant a full range of local traditional varieties to maintain genetic diversity for the future, which may be important considering climate change.
- On recent rye-grass grass leys without any wildflowers or on arable land, especially land that has been successively ploughed and has low organic matter and therefore carbon content. Even field margins planted as small copses or wide hedgerows will count, making a difference for carbon and wildlife.
- Plant new hedgerows, especially where hedgerows have been lost from the landscape. Make them as wide as possible and where possible link them to other wooded features. They shelter predators of agricultural pests such as aphids, flea beetles and weevils and provide shelter for livestock, something that will become more important as the climate changes. They also absorb nutrients from the soil and, with careful positioning, can assist in the management of run-off buffering against rivers and water bodies.
- Along river corridors and in floodplains, plant bankside trees and establish wet woodland (but check you are not planting on valuable floodplain meadows, or open breeding habitat of curlew and other waders). Riverside trees have multiple benefits. They: shade and cool the river; combat temperature increases which deplete oxygen; sustain diverse invertebrates and fish; can alleviate flooding; and reduce soil erosion and nutrient run-off into the rivers.
- In open situations, including wood pasture and ffridd, plant new trees to succeed our veteran trees. The UK has the highest density of veteran and ancient trees in Europe, but we need new, growing and maturing trees to replace them. Trees in the open grow more rapidly, with wider crowns and more leaf, increasing their carbon capture.
- Within towns and villages, particularly where trees will provide local climate benefits and pollution control. Trees within the built environment are important for enhancing the public realm providing greater opportunity for people to connect with nature
- Where forestry is the main objective, and understanding that there is a future need for homegrown timber, we promote that new plantations are diverse in species and are managed as continuous cover forestry as this holds far more value for wildlife.
- Where new plantations are needed we would favour them being on the most degraded land and designed so that they have graded edge and connectivity to the wider landscape. The citing of plantations needs careful consideration against the Powys Opportunity maps, particularly the grassland and ancient woodland maps. Plantations should not impact on the ability for these networks to establish.
What RWT will do:
- We will maintain and make accessible a library of survey information of woodlands within Radnorshire
- We will ensure that we have expertise on woodland management and creation in the Radnorshire context within our staff, trustee and/or Conservation Advisory Committee.
- We will manage and allow public access to our nature reserve woodlands
- We will advocate for the support for protection, retention and restoration of our semi natural ancient woodlands.
- We will provide support and advice on woodland creation and management to maximise outcomes for wildlife
- We will develop and support local and large scale projects that restore and enhance the habitat and landscapes of Radnorshire.
- We will advocate for tree and woodland funding support to facilitate the establishment and long-term management required for biodiverse woodlands that includes open habitat to benefit future generations.
- We will advocate for appropriate funding support for the management and restoration of other habitats to ensure that a funding bias does not result in an acceleration of wider habitat loss.
- When establishing new woodland, we will employ the following hierarchy: natural regeneration; natural regeneration with enrichment planting; planting.
- When planting, we will employ the following hierarchy: direct seeding with seed collected from site; whip trees grown on site from seed collected on site; local provenance whips of locally native species or axiophytes.