Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arboricultural Association.

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Why tree planting schemes make me mad!

Author:  Alan Rowe
Last Updated:  02/09/2020

Alan Rowe

Firstly, let me start by saying that I love trees. I love them so much that I decided to make a career out of tree care, my job is trees, at home I read about and plant trees, I plant trees with a volunteer group in my locality and on holidays I seek out big trees (much to the annoyance of my family).

I know many of us feel this way, but I thought that I had better start with this statement before I let you carry on reading, so that you know where I am coming from. Over a 25-year career in arb doing various jobs including groundwork, climbing, surveying, power line clearance, railway works and 20 years in local authority, I have seen many, many tree planting initiatives come and go.

My experience has been that all of these schemes are front-end loaded, with the bulk of funding being up front with little put aside for maintenance or establishment. Local dignitaries and well-meaning types turn up on planting day with shiny new spades, they get local press to take photos of them planting a tree, then everyone walks away and never gives another thought for the trees, which invariably suffer from a high mortality rate.

I have seen many woodlands planted which have now turned into an impenetrable mass of over-stocked young trees all scrabbling for the light and falling into each other and achieving weird height/diameter ratios which means that none of them may ever achieve what is seen as a more natural form or structure.

So, imagine my delight when I hear politicians trying to outdo each other by promising to plant more and more trees! The current government have promised to plant over 15 million trees covering 30,000 hectares of land by 2025. Now that’s 115 square miles, which is coincidentally the size of the Maldives and means that 6000 hectares will need to be planted every year, which is an area the size of San Marino.

Tree planting is potentially a great thing and of course I am supportive in principle, and if all of those trees reached maturity and thrive and grow then they will, of course, give us loads of benefits in terms of clean air, rainwater attenuation, carbon sequestration etc.

But we need to think this through before we pull the trigger on this loaded gun we are being handed. If fighting climate change is the main driver then we need to be very careful about where we plant so that we don’t reduce other more effective environments such as wetland and grassland, and we need to ensure that so much tree planting doesn’t undermine or destroy other priority habitats or reduce our biodiversity.

What we need is sustainable, realistic tree planting on sites where it is appropriate and to focus on quality rather than quantity, so that we plant woodlands and trees that will last. How about instead of planting 11 million trees, we plant 1 million and actually look after them? Let’s resist ill-informed politicians dictating the pace and let’s get involved at an industry level and support realistic tree planting that will offer us the many, many benefits that trees give us.

Trees can, and will, be a tool for helping tackle climate change but I do wonder what’s going on when I hear people who eat meat, fly around the world, buy all of their clothes new and drive petrol/diesel cars telling us tree care professionals that we need to get serious about climate change!!

This article was taken form Issue 190 Autumn 2020 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.