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BBC Countryfile Plant Britain - Establishing Trees Effectively.

Updated: Jun 28, 2022

On Sunday 29th November 2020, BBC's Countryfile devoted an entire programme to their new Plant Britain campaign. They laid out plans to plant 750,000 trees as a way of combatting climate change and while there was a reasonable overview of the current climate crisis, they did miss quite a few important considerations when planning the planting or establishment of new woodland.

It is clear that we are not alone in this point of view as Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England, wrote an article in the following week that provided a more balanced view and covered some of the issues that Countryfile missed.

Countryfile has an important role in the UK – 6 million viewers make it one of the UK’s most effective means of engaging the general public in issues relating to biodiversity loss and climate change. As a publicly funded broadcaster, the BBC has a responsibility to educate the public on tree planting in a more balanced manner as set out by the Chair of Natural England. For Countryfile, it is essential that their programme is totally clear about the scale of activity needed and their role in it and try not let journalistic hubris give the impression that their campaign is the answer to climate change.

To summarise the key points from both Countryfile and Tony Juniper...

In the current state of our enviroment we need to plant 30,000 hectares of trees per annum to make a significant contribution to addressing climate change – this could be as many as 60 million trees. Countryfile’s Plant Britain campaign to plant 750,000 trees is a great start but it is clear that much more is needed. One question that remains: Does the UK have the capacity to provide up to 60 million seedlings per annum. A possible answer to this is Natural Regeneration, as discussed below.

Location - A very real danger of broadcasting a tree planting challenge without explaining the importance of location is that trees get planted in the wrong place. This may not seem catastrophic at first, but if planters do not properly research their proposed area for planting, this could be destroying other important habitats. This must be avoided at all costs.

Provenance of Trees - A mix of native broadleaved species should be used, matched to soil conditions and ideally grown from local seed.

Natural Regeneration – Tony Juniper makes a good case for this approach, where woodlands are restocked by trees that develop from seeds that fall and germinate in situ. It is a dynamic approach that avoids the artificial structure of plantations, provides a greater diversity of habitats and wildlife; it is more sustainable and it is more cost effective. Rewilding projects such as at Knepp Wildland have demonstrated the benefits. Countryfile's proposed woodland was immediately adjacent to an Ancient woodland which could have been an opportunity to use natural regeneration to establish this wood?

The importance of open space in new woodlands - New woodlands need to include open space of 20% or more, which become glades, rides and provide edge habitat. Often the richest space in a wood is the ride or glade that catches the midday sun. In the height of summer this will be alive with wildlife. These habitats are essential for many species and need to be planned into any new woodlands. Open spaces are also the routes people will use in the future to enjoy these woodlands which is excellently demonstrated by The Woodmeadow Trust -

Plantations – We need to stop planting in straight lines. It is not necessary. It is perfectly possible to plant along a wavy line that avoid the regimented views of trees in long lines. Dense plantations without any open space or variety can take many years before they are of value to wildlife. However if we were to incorporate wildflower sown open space they can quickly provide habitat and biodiversity.

Soils – An under appreciated resource that holds vast quantities of carbon and could capture more. We need to move our farming away from the activity that has destroyed our soils and forward to a future of healthy soils. Our post Brexit Government policy and Agricultural incentives need to target the recovery of our soils. The farming techniques to do this are already understood by the agricultural community.

To summarise, there were several crucial elements to establishing trees that BBC's Countryfile failed to include in its Plant Britain campaign programme. Tony Junipers article provided some more detail. The media need to be very careful not to present single projects as a quick fix to for our environmental crisis. Projects need to be put in context and we need a UK wide approach to how Natural solutions, such as tree establishment, can be used to fight this global issue effectively and without doing more harm than good.

BioCap is starting the process of mapping our local patch and creating a vision for the landscape of West Berkshire. Through the use of technology we will make our mapping techniques available to benefit UK PLC. Our West Berkshire Opportunity Map will be the starting point for discussions with landowners and will be the catalyst for changes that help to address climate change and Biodiversity Loss.

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