Today the Government launched its 25 year plan to improve the environment. What does the 150 page document lay out? And what are people saying about it? We read it so you don’t have to (well most of it – we skimmed to the good bits) and summarise it here.

The 10 goals in the Government’s 25-year plan are:

  1. Clean air.
  2. Clean and plentiful water.
  3. Thriving plants and wildlife.
  4. A reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as flooding and drought.
  5. Using resources from nature more sustainably and efficiently.
  6. Enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment.
  7. Mitigating and adapting to climate change.
  8. Minimising waste.
  9. Managing exposure to chemicals.
  10. Enhancing biosecurity.

Lofty! “How do they plan to do this?” I hear you cry. I am glad you asked because these are the policies they plan to put in place to reach these goals

  • Using and managing land sustainably
  • Recovering nature and enhancing the beauty of landscapes
  • Connecting people with the environment to improve health and wellbeing
  • Increasing resource efficiency, and reducing pollution and waste
  • Securing clean, productive and biologically diverse seas and oceans
  • Protecting and improving the global environment

What about tree planting? Does it get a look in? You’ll be happy to hear, yes it does. By doing a bit of a CTRL F, we found all the good bits about trees and here is what we welcome in the plan:

  • We will increase tree planting by creating new forests, and incentivising extra planting on private and the least productive agricultural land, where appropriate. This will support our ambition to plant 11m trees.

Great that they are sticking to this goal! In fact, the government’s goal to plant 11 million trees was in part the inspiration to set up Roots for the Future CIC. However, having done a lot of reading and research into tree planting and woodland cover, 11 million is a drop in our ever-deepening oceans. Currently globally 15 billion trees are cut down each year and only 5 billion are replanted. In addition, the UK only has 12% woodland cover which is a quarter what the average European country has.

  • We will strengthen domestic carbon offset mechanisms to encourage private sector investment and develop markets for domestic carbon reduction. This will encourage more businesses to offset their emissions in a cost-effective way, through planting trees.

This is great news and we at Roots for the Future will be keeping an eye out for what this means in practice. One of our plans for sustainability as a social enterprise is to work with Corporates on carbon offsetting packages to support our community tree planting. This means that they can see the impact of their offsetting at a local level rather than investing in offsetting overseas.

  • We will explore the best use of innovative forms of private sector finance, including philanthropic, social and commercial investment.

I assume they mean social impact bonds where philanthropists and CSR investors can support social endeavours. We shall be watching this too.

WE WANT TO PLANT A COMMUNITY FOREST! Or a community arboretum. We just need the land to do it. Any wealthy landowners or tired farmers out there want to give us a slice of their land to do this email m🙂 🙂 🙂

  • Appointing and working with a Tree Champion and the Forestry Commission to design and develop a future grant scheme aimed at larger scale afforestation to meet carbon reduction goals and wider environmental benefits.

A Tree Champion? Can it be me?! Pleeeease. I promise not to wear my wellies to Parliament.

  • Expanding the use of natural flood management solutions by working with natural processes, to better protect ourselves from hazards such as flooding. Natural Flood Management involves the use of a variety of measures including tree planting, river bank restoration, building small-scale woody dams, reconnecting rivers with their flood plains and storing water temporarily on open land.

Again tree planting for natural flood management was one of the inspirations for setting up Roots for the Future. In Godalming, home to Roots for the Future, many people had a miserable Christmas in 2013 because the River Wey flooded homes and businesses. Natural flood management in tandem with engineered solutions is the way forward for our country, which will increasingly suffer the effects of climate extremes.

  • Encourage children to be close to nature, in and out of school, with particular focus on disadvantaged areas.

Roots for the Future brings people together to plant trees close to where they live. All ages are welcome to plant with us and we envisage that our focus on children and youth – with forest school elements to our workshops – will inspire the next generation to find environmental solutions to climate change.

  • ‘Green’ our towns and cities by creating green infrastructure and planting one million urban trees.

We like to focus on planting trees close to people’s homes, in areas of most need, and with people who will benefit most from the trees. This includes areas of social housing, sheltered housing for older people and schools.

And what about the Sustainable Development Goals? On them, the report states:

  • We are using finance mechanisms that will attract more private finance into environmental projects and focus investment where it can provide the greatest benefit and bring real, meaningful results. We will continue to take coordinated and ambitious action, building on our existing achievements, to reduce the UK’s impact on the environment at home and abroad, and help developing countries to meet their targets.

We will keep an eye on this too because when we ask about SDGs being implemented at a local level we don’t hear about or see much action. And with austerity still biting council funding, private finance is the only way we’ll achieve the ambitious goals by 2030. Personally I think this plan should be a 12 year plan and sit in line with the SDGs so that we really do work towards reaching them.

These are the things we are a little sceptical about:

  • We will not focus solely on planting, however; we will also support increased protection of existing trees and forests. The Government recognises the significant heritage value and irreplaceable character of ancient woodland and veteran trees. We are committed to ensuring stronger protection of our ancient woodlands, making sure they are sustainably managed to provide a wide range of social, environmental, societal and economic benefits.

Oh yeah? What about all the ancient woodland you are going to decimate to make way for HS2?

As Paul de Zylva from Friends of Earth told BBC News regarding the government’s plan for a new Northern Forest: “You simply can’t compare the biodiversity value of new sticks in the ground with ancient forest.”

While we love putting “new sticks in the ground” their environmental benefits pale in comparison to ancient woodland. So we must protect the trees we have and plant “new sticks in the ground”.

  • Increasing woodland in England in line with our aspiration of 12% cover by 2060: this would involve planting 180,000 hectares by end of 2042.

12% by 2060? I could be dead by then!! Currently woodland coverage is 10% in England. The European average is 44%. Come on England! Let’s aim for sooner than 2060.

So that’s what we are saying about the 25 year plan (with regards to trees in any case). What are others saying?

Prime Minister Theresa May, who launched the plan this morning, wrote an introduction to the document and said:

“By using our land more sustainably and creating new habitats for wildlife, including by planting more trees, we can arrest the decline in native species and improve our biodiversity… Connecting more people with the environment will promote greater well-being.”

This is true. There is tons of evidence about people feeling better when they spend time in green spaces and around trees.

Friends of the Earth’s CEO Craig Bennett said:

“A long-term vison for protecting our environment is essential, but… it’s time to stop tinkering at the margins and get to the heart of the problems – especially the nation’s fossil fuels addiction. Ministers must pull the plug on coal, gas and oil, end its support for fracking and develop the UK’s huge renewable power potential. 25 years is a long way off – particularly for a government that might not last 25 weeks. We need action now.”

Ouch!

Greenpeace UK’s executive director John Sauven said:

Britain’s natural environment needs a 25-month emergency plan more than it needs a 25-year vision. If the government’s aim is to get through to young voters, they need to offer change that happens before these youths turn middle age.”

Or in my case, before I get a zimmer frame.

Stephanie Hilborne from the Wildlife Trusts said:

“This plan looks good in many ways, but it has no legal under-pinning so it could completely disappear.”

On this I agree. It would be hard to put all the goals of the report into a piece of legislation that would easily pass through parliamentary scrutiny and become an Act of Law. However ring-fencing an environmental protection and enhancement budget and enshrining it into law, similar to DFID’s 0.7% GNI budget spent on aid and development overseas, is one way of ensuring there is the money behind the policies. Putting their government wallets where their government mouths are, that’s the key.