top of page

Conservatives understand the philosophical importance of trees. We must plant more.

Trees are a golden thread running through British history and our cultural identity, from MacBeth to Harry Potter, via Robin Hood and Winnie the Pooh. Trees are firmly rooted in our national and natural heritage, and, in turn, they root us in our green and pleasant land. Indeed, a majestic oak tree forms the Conservative Party’s own logo.

Kitty Thompson | Senior Nature Programme Manager

Conservatives understand the philosophical importance of trees. We plant a sapling knowing that we will never sit under its shade. That is a joy reserved for our children and grandchildren. Planting a tree is a fundamentally selfless act of intergenerational exchange, a core tenet of conservatism. We take pride in acting now to ensure future generations will have a natural world to enjoy.

Majestic to behold, trees are also an integral part of daily life. They provide shelter to wildlife, absorb carbon from the atmosphere, purify our air, serve as natural flood defences, cool our urban centres with their shade, strengthen the soil that surrounds them, provide sustenance to humans and animals alike, and increase pride in the local communities that they are planted in.

Last year there was a national outcry as we awoke to the news that the Sycamore Gap tree in Northumberland had been felled in an act of wanton vandalism. Steeped in history and cultural significance, the loss of this tree awoke something in our collective psyche. But the loss of a solitary sycamore tree is nowhere near as troubling as the realisation that its surrounding upland landscape and many others like it were once covered in trees but now lie empty.

A tree’s presence can too easily and too often be taken for granted until it is too late. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, with trees and woodlands some of the most high-profile victims of this decline in biodiversity. Trees deliver many benefits to us and the environment; they are not just nice to have.

As well as sequestering carbon, trees can prove extremely useful for tackling climate change through the carbon-rich timber they produce in industries, like construction, that need to decarbonise but will require a steady supply of alternative materials to do so.

Bolstering our timber security, therefore, helps us in our collective national mission to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and supports industries and new jobs along the supply chain. Greater tree planting rates should be synonymous with a thriving UK commercial forestry sector.

For timber that is harvested, the more things that can be done to it, the more jobs and industries will be created along the way. A failure to produce and use timber domestically is a failure to create these economic opportunities. The same is true when we jump straight to burning wood for electricity, which inevitably releases stored carbon into the atmosphere and removes the possibility of further economic and environmental uses of the wood.

Accompanied by an incredibly ambitious target to increase England’s tree cover to 16.5 per cent by 2050, the case for tree planting is clear but, collectively, we are not doing enough of it. We still fall far behind our European neighbours with woodland covering a mere 10 per cent of English land, up from 7 per cent in 1980. Even with the creation of a new national forest announced by the Government last year, we are still falling well short.

This may seem perplexing in light of the many valiant efforts from communities across the country to plant more. But the scale of the tree-planting challenge we have set ourselves will require the private sector to act too. For the private sector, the question of planting trees at the moment is not so much a question of “why not?”, but rather “why bother?”. As it stands, both the risk and reward of doing so mean the incentives often simply do not add up to an attractive business proposition.

At the last general election, there was a great temptation for political parties to engage in a bidding war on the number of trees they would plant in government. With the next general election now firmly on the horizon, it is time for a more realistic and practical approach focusing on what we want to achieve from planting trees and how we will deliver it. It is with this in mind that the Conservative Environment Network, backed by a substantial number of parliamentarians, has launched its latest publication entitled “Branching Out: a manifesto for our trees, woodlands, and forests”.

The content of this publication does not profess to solve all of the problems facing trees and tree planting. Instead, it offers a set of recommendations that help ensure that the incentives offered to plant trees are sufficiently appealing and fair. In order that future generations may have plentiful opportunities to behold a mighty oak tree’s majesty for themselves or to wander through the enchanting world of a seemingly unending woodland, it is our duty as Conservatives to act now.

First published by ConservativeHome. Kitty Thompson is the Conservative Environment Network's Senior Nature Programme Manager.


bottom of page