Are more trees really the answer?
Updated: Dec 9, 2019
This election, everyone is talking about trees. The Conservatives have promised 30 million trees a year for five years. The Lib Dems increased that to 60 million. The Greens will be planting 70 million trees a year for ten years, while Labour has promised 100 million trees a year for 20 years: two billion new trees by 2040. Each party is trying to 'out-green' each other; but is this really a sensible plan?
In this week's Spectator, Jamie Blackett argues that tree-planting "isn’t a catch-all solution to climate change".
"We think we are returning the land to primordial forest but the closed canopy forest we are creating now almost certainly never existed. Every time new forestry is planted on our heather hills, we swap the uniquely British biodiverse habitat of iconic birds such as curlews and hen harriers — and yes, red and black grouse — for monocultures of alien species like the sitka spruce from the North Pacific islands. This remains true even for the new planting schemes that require token margins of native trees.
Our most at-risk bird, the curlew, will not nest within 500 metres of the forest edge because of predators such as crows, buzzards and badgers, so it is being further endangered by the loss of swaths of its moorland habitat. And one theory for the alarming decline in salmon numbers is runoff from conifer forestry acidifying our rivers. Overseas conservationists who marvel at our unique upland landscapes — 75 per cent of the world’s heather moorlands — must think we are bonkers. Maybe we would be better to celebrate what we already have and look at ways to improve our moorland and grassland’s already impressive capacity to lock up carbon and retain water instead of taking the easy option."
It's something many people forget; that here in the UK we are lucky enough to already have some fantastically diverse and increasingly rare habitats. Why are politicians so keen to destroy the nature that we already have, by replacing it with invasive species found the world over? It seems to us as if this is something that, in a few decades time, we will live to regret.