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CEN: Green Tories support ambitious plan to restore woodlands across Britain’s depleted countryside

Today, the Conservative Environment Network - which has a caucus of over 130 parliamentarians - has launched its manifesto, ‘Branching Out’, which puts forward a series of bold and pragmatic policies to revive trees, woodland, and forests across the UK, boosting nature, carbon storage, and timber security. The manifesto is supported by 32 parliamentarians. 

Trees are firmly rooted in our country’s natural heritage. However, the UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and is missing out on the benefits trees provide our wildlife, our mental wellbeing, and protecting and improving local areas. Trees are once again becoming pivotal to our economy, supporting industries like construction to decarbonise. But a lack of tree planting has left the UK as the third biggest importer of timber in the world. 

This manifesto sets out a realistic but ambitious approach to boost our timber security, restore nature across Britain, support industries critical to delivering net zero emissions by 2050, and add well-paying jobs along the supply chain.

The manifesto addresses five key areas to help unlock new forests and tree planting: protecting trees we have; boosting our timber security; integrating trees into the farmed landscape; reviewing our consumption of wood products for bioenergy; and leading by example in the public sector. 

Some key policy recommendations include: 

  • Rigorously enforce and strengthen the sustainability of our biomass energy imports

  • Require producers of biomass energy to demonstrate full financial transparency in order to receive subsidies after 2027

  • Create investment zone-style Forestry Creation Zones, cutting red tape for targeted locations in England to boost tree planting

  • Issue clear guidance to local authorities on the right place, time, and type of tree to plant

  • Update the Deer Management Strategy to include support for venison harvesting along the supply chain and new guidance within the Government Buying Standard for Food to include venison in the food offering of public institutions

  • Regularly review the payment rates of tree planting SFI standards for upland farmers to ensure farmers are being fairly compensated

  • Convene more Woodlands for Water projects, targeting farmland most at risk from flooding and catchments with the lowest amount of riparian planting

The manifesto has been signed by 32 Conservative parliamentarians, including: Damian Green MP, Philip Dunne MP, Sir Robert Goodwill MP, Chris Grayling MP, Theresa Villiers MP, Trudy Harrison MP, Matt Hancock MP, Tim Loughton MP, Sir Desmond Swayne TD MP, Sir Peter Bottomley MP, Robin Walker MP, Vicky Ford MP, Stephen Hammond MP, Adam Holloway MP, Sir Oliver Heald MP, Jason McCartney MP, Selaine Saxby MP Tracey Crouch MP Ruth Edwards MP Andrew Selous MP, Simon Fell MP, Sally-Ann Hart MP, Duncan Baker MP, Jo Gideon MP, David Simmonds MP, Flick Drummond MP, Caroline Ansell MP Peter Aldous MP, Lord Zac Goldsmith, Lord Randall, Lord Lucas, and the Earl of Caithness. 

Available for broadcast: 

  • John Flesher, Deputy Director, Conservative Environment Network 

Kitty Thompson, Senior Nature Programme Manager, commented: 

“Trees are vital for our natural environment, our well-being, and our communities. Conservatives in particular attach a philosophical importance to trees. We take pride in planting saplings now to give future generations trees, woodlands, and forests to enjoy and benefit from. 

“At the last general election, political parties engaged in a bidding war on the number of trees they would plant in government. With an incredibly ambitious target to now meet, we must harness private finance, not just public money and charitable efforts. With the next general election now firmly on the horizon, we need a realistic and practical approach to tree planting that empowers farmers and land managers, not top-down diktats. This manifesto puts forward a set of policy recommendations to help do exactly that.”

CEN MP Theresa Villiers, former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, commented:

“Trees and woodlands are integral to so much of what makes this country the great place it is, from being vital habitats for our precious wildlife to their natural beauty. They are also a key component of our efforts to tackle climate change and restore nature, which is why the government has rightly adopted ambitious targets to boost tree planting and forest cover across the country.

“But we are falling short of hitting those targets and current efforts to meet them are insufficient. It’s time for a bold new approach. Stripping away red tape and making it much easier for landowners to access funding for planting the millions of trees we need would really boost our environmental mission. The government should designate ‘Forestry Creation Zones’ to streamline the process of accessing funding in the right places, helping get our targets back on track. By having designated zones to plant new forests, we can help maximise tree coverage, and boost our timber security and biodiversity, without impacting on prime agricultural land.”

CEN MP Trudy Harrison, former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Natural Environment and Land Use, commented: 

“The heinous felling of the Sycamore Gap tree last year resonated across the UK. We are a nation of nature-lovers and we profoundly value our trees and forests and the benefits that they bring us. But the real tragedy is not just the disappearance of one tree, but our collective failure for decades to reforest at the scale required.

“By designating many more areas as suitable for mass tree planting and woodland creation and streamlining funding applications for these areas, we can take a big step towards boosting biodiversity and locking up millions of tonnes of carbon. These ‘Forestry Creation Zones’ would be good for the economy too, targeting land ripe for new woodlands, which can support jobs, growth and wider levelling-up efforts, as well as public access to the natural world.”

Sir Robert Goodwill, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, commented:

“Trees are a hugely important public good. This importance is reflected in the government's ambitious target to increase the English tree canopy to 16.5% of land by 2050. To meet this target, we need to continue to support tree planting efforts, but we should also make it easier for woodlands to regenerate naturally too. Unfortunately, this natural process is often undermined by roaming wild deer which eat saplings. Their rising numbers are now upsetting the ecological balance. 

“To keep deer in check, we need to get wild venison on the menu rather than letting this cheap, British meat go to waste. Just as we stipulate how much fish should be served, the government should update its procurement policies so that wild British venison is served in schools and other public institutions across England. Wild venison is as free range as it comes. Eating it is a win for our woodlands that can also boost our food security in the process.”

CEN MP Sir Desmond Swayne TD, former Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, commented:

“With no natural predator, wild deer numbers have exploded to their highest in 1000 years. At this scale, their overgrazing presents huge problems for rural communities by causing extensive damage to farmers’ crops, increasing the risk of traffic collisions, and preventing the natural regeneration of woodland. Fortunately, there is a large appetite to solve this problem. 

“Venison is a cheap and abundant homegrown meat, but too much is being exported or going to waste due to a lack of appropriate infrastructure to handle the supply. The government should support new processing and refrigeration facilities across the country to help put cheap, domestically sourced venison back on the menu. 

“Getting this British protein onto dinner tables and restaurant menus represents a significant economic opportunity. By providing the initial support, the government can help nurture a new industry for our rural communities whilst protecting our woodlands. 

CEN MP Sir Peter Bottomley, Father of the House, commented:

“There are serious questions about biomass as an energy source, from the sustainability of the wood used as fuel, to the way that its emissions are not included in the UK’s carbon accounting. The public is supportive of our mission to reach net zero, but taxpayers risk being duped into thinking that biomass is a viable part of a clean energy future. We are in danger of sleepwalking into the ongoing use of biomass and then BECCS, despite all the concerns around them. Ministers would be sensible to hold firm and refuse to hand out further subsidies while such significant questions remain. The Climate Change Committee is capable of modelling alternative routes to net zero that don’t involve this dubious form of energy.”

CEN MP Selaine Saxby, Member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee: 

“The public has forked out millions of pounds in subsidies for woody biomass energy generation, despite its highly questionable environmental status. The UK has a proud environmental record and the British people are fully behind our mission to decarbonise - they have every right to expect that their money is spent wisely and for real environmental gain.

“Before any new subsidy contracts are issued, ministers should set rigorous criteria for recipients of this public money. At the very least, they must tighten the requirements to use genuinely sustainable waste wood and insist on full financial transparency to make sure that consumers aren’t being ripped off. Moreover, instead of accepting the industry’s vague promises of BECCS as a long term solution to our energy and emissions reduction needs, the government should also consider carefully whether it really represents the best negative emissions technology available.”

CEN MP Dame Tracey Crouch, former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Sport, Heritage and Tourism, commented:

“Trees play a pivotal role in creating the green spaces that foster pride in place and can improve our access to nature, well-being, and air quality. Local communities deserve to have nature and greenery in their life, and trees can help provide this rejuvenating touch. 

“Planting trees often starts with local councils. Unfortunately, there are too many examples of councils planting the wrong trees in the wrong areas. This has led to wasted taxpayer money which should have contributed to improving local communities. 

“The government must reform guidance for local councils. By issuing clear instructions on the right place, time, and type of trees we need, voters will have peace of mind that their money is being spent effectively and will know their local community will soon be greener, healthier, and happier.”

CEN MP Jason McCartney, Co-chair of the APPG for Yorkshire and Northern Lincolnshire, commented:  

“In 2019, our party was elected with a promise of levelling up our country and restoring people’s pride in their communities. Part of this promise was to harness nature and turn urban and rural areas alike into greener and rejuvenated places for people to enjoy. The evidence is clear that urban greenery can help increase the sense of pride people feel in their local area, as well as improving our health and making places more resilient to climate change. An effective tree-planting campaign should be front and centre of any approach to healthier and greener communities. 

“But too many local councils are failing to take effective action. There have been cases of local authorities replanting trees on the same site four times over the course of a year. Due to a lack of clear guidance, local councils are too often planting the wrong trees in unsuitable areas. There need to be guidelines that set clear parameters for local government, guaranteeing taxpayer money is spent effectively, creating greener, healthier communities.”


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