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Mike Townsend FICFor argues for increasing the area of trees and forests in the UK to benefit future generations
Mike Townsend says to think about forest expansion in terms of the total tree canopy area, not just ‘blocks’
n the past, forest expansion in the UK has been seen as afforestation of large areas, often in the uplands, as an alternative land use displacing agriculture. While well-designed and wellmanaged forests on agriculturally marginal land should continue to represent opportunities for forest expansion, we should also think about expansion in terms of the total area represented by tree canopies – not only blocks of woodland, but also trees woven into the fabric of urban and rural land use.
Picture: Mike Townsend
THE VALUE OF TREES AND FORESTS
The importance of trees and forests is recognised throughout the world. They provide wood for fuel, building materials and feedstock, as well as non-wood products for human and animal feed – fruits and seeds, oils and medicines. But, as the United Nations report on ‘The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity’ (TEEB) demonstrates, their importance is vastly greater than this; regulating the atmosphere, in climate and water cycles, soil conservation, and supporting a disproportionate amount of the globe’s terrestrial biodiversity.
ACCESS TO HIGH-QUALITY GREENSPACE, AND TREES IN PARTICULAR, HAS BEEN SHOWN TO ENCOURAGE HEALTHY LIFESTYLES AND PROMOTE BOTH PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
production. In recent years, environmental and social benefits have been highlighted in addition to timber. There is now increasing emphasis on the threat posed by climate change and the need for ecosystem services. The notion of ecosystem services brings together the range of benefits which trees and forestry provides. This includes ‘provisioning services’, in particular timber production, ‘regulating services’ such as water management and carbon storage, and
‘cultural services’ such as recreation and education. Key to understanding the need for more woodland in the UK is the dependency of the location of many of these ecosystem services. While not true of all, many of these services must be supplied where they are consumed. In identifying the need for an increase in tree and forest cover, we should be clear about the benefits and specific about where they are delivered.
THE URBAN FOREST
The importance of the urban forest is being increasingly understood. The urban heat island effect, exacerbated by climate change, has significant health impacts. High temperature combined with poor air quality increases the risk of cardiovascular and respiratory disease and leads to significant increases in mortality and morbidity during hot weather. Trees have a marked impact on
Historically, forest expansion had the primary objective of timber
18 Chartered Forester
Picture: Woodland Trust Photo Library/Fiona Granger
agriculture and to ecosystem services such as water management, biodiversity and cultural landscapes. Any consideration of forest expansion should recognise the importance in maintaining and increasing the canopy cover represented by trees outside woods, as well as those opportunities for more extensive forestry where agriculture is marginal.
TREES AND WATER
In addition to the role in reducing surface water flooding, woodland creation could play a greater role in water management; regulating flow, increasing quality and providing part of a sustainable approach to flood management. River basin management plans recognise the role of woodland creation in protecting vulnerable soils from erosion, reducing overland water flows, diffuse pollution and sedimentation of water courses. Opportunity mapping of the Lake District, undertaken by Forest Research and supported by the Woodland Trust, Natural England and Cumbria Woodlands, identified the potential for significant areas of woodland creation to reduce diffuse sedimentation and phosphate pollution. The report recognised that woodland creation could be a mix of larger commercial conifer plantations, native woodland, wood pasture and individual trees.
The Wales landscape illustrates the importance of trees outside woods to total tree cover
Picture: Woodland Trust Photo Library/Steven Kind
the urban heat island effect, providing shade from radiant heat, and reducing ambient temperatures through evaporation from soil surfaces and transpiration from leaves. Careful siting and species selection can also help improve air quality through the adsorption of pollutants and the reduction in ground level ozone. Access to high-quality greenspace, and trees in particular, has been shown to encourage healthy lifestyles and promote physical and mental health. But according to the woodland access standard developed by the Woodland Trust and endorsed by government, 85 per cent of people in the UK have no access to a wood of more than 2ha within 500m of their home. Increasing canopy cover also reduces the risk of surface water flooding; two thirds of all flooding during the 2007 floods was from surface water. Research at the University of Manchester is beginning to quantify this benefit. Results suggest a 10 per cent increase in canopy cover could decrease surface water run-off by 6 per cent. Many towns and cities are poorly served by tree cover or have an ageing and deteriorating tree stock. Maintenance and expansion of the urban forest is essential to making towns and cities well adapted. The canopy spread of trees make them well suited to provide large areas of green cover, even in paved town centres.
Mike Townsend will be addressing the ‘Trees, People and the Built Environment’ conference on Thursday 14 April on ‘Public Participation in Urban Tree Cover’ in a session on the value of communities in successful urban greening
SUPPORTING PRODUCTIVE FARMING
Food security has become a major driver for land use policy. A view which sees farming and forestry as competing activities is unhelpful. An increase in tree cover on farms can be shown to support productive farming; providing shade and shelter to improve animal welfare and increase food efficiency, reducing wind damage to crops and improving the efficiency of irrigation through reduced evaporation, providing an alternative source of on-farm energy, timber, and so on. But it requires a re-evaluation of forestry in an agricultural landscape. While we are familiar with the management of individual trees in urban areas, there has been less focus on the importance and value of scattered trees, shelter belts and hedgerow trees in the rural landscape. And yet these trees outside woods represent a significant proportion of canopy cover, contributing to productive
Many of the benefits from the expansion of tree and forest cover are not represented by the market. However, there is a growing awareness of the need to acknowledge and measure the value of these services. Forest expansion should look for the opportunities for expansive areas of productive forest, particularly on marginal agricultural land, but we should also consider the need to maintain and increase good-quality tree cover elsewhere. New woodland creation should be represented by a mix of treed landscapes to meet a range of material, social and cultural functions that support society. We have an historic opportunity. If we act to restore the forested landscape then future generations will laud our foresight. If we fail to act ours will be a dismal legacy. Mike Townsend FICFor is Senior Advisor at The Woodland Trust.
Chartered Forester 19
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