Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Woodland Trust (U12)


  1.  The Woodland Trust welcomes this opportunity to submit written evidence to the above inquiry. The Trust is the UK's leading woodland conservation charity. We achieve our purposes through a combination of acquiring woodland and sites for planting and through advocacy of the importance of protecting ancient woodland, enhancing its biodiversity, expanding woodland cover and increasing public enjoyment. We own over 1,100 sites across the country, covering around 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) and we have 250,000 members and supporters.


  2.  The Trust regards the forthcoming review of the UK Climate Change Programme as one of the most crucial political events of the coming year. The review will provide an opportunity for renewed focus on the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution's target of a 60% reduction in CO2 by 2050 , the effectives of green taxation as a means of helping business and individuals to reduce CO2 emissions, the need for synergy between Government departments to make real progress and the importance of public engagement with the climate change agenda. A strong theme of the Trust's evidence is that there needs to be greater recognition of the need for adaptation measures in response to climate change as well as mitigation measures. These themes and others we hope will be reflected in the UK's G8 and EU presidencies in 2005.


  3.  Climate change has been described by the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor as a bigger threat than international terrorism[17] whilst the European Commission has described it as "one of the greatest environmental and economic threats facing the planet".[18] The review of the UK Climate Change Programme is therefore one of the most critical political events of the coming year. The Woodland Trust believes that the review must be visionary and not shirk the challenges faced. It must also make every effort to engage the public with the issue through building on the growing awareness triggered by recent extreme climatic events. It must also accord far greater recognition to the need to adapt to the fact that climate change is already with us and recognise that mitigation alone is not enough at the stage we have reached. Our evidence will focus particularly on this theme.


  4.  The UK must at the very least, not be deflected from the pursuit of the 60% reduction target by 2050 put forward by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. As the Prime Minister recently noted, this means significant changes in lifestyle[19] and will require an imaginative approach which genuinely incentivises greener behaviour and business opportunities.

  5.  Effective communication strategies and use of fiscal incentives by Government are vital to ensuring that these changes are perceived as opportunities rather than burdens. This can be greatly assisted through thoughtful and wider use of green taxation, a tool which has seemingly been relegated in importance following the Government's initial positive noises about its potential upon coming to power. It will also require far bolder action in tackling the extent of the pollution from the aviation industry, predicted to be one of the biggest individual contributors to climate change by 2050.[20]

  6.  Particularly apparent, and a major theme during the current review of the UK Sustainable Development Strategy, is the need for far more joined up action across Government with strong leadership required from No 10. The recent move towards the sharing of the PSA target on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions between Defra and the Department of Transport is a welcome but glaringly overdue initiative emerging from Spending Review 2004.

  7.  The Government's target of achieving a 20% share of electricity from renewables by 2020 should be regarded as a minimum and a more imaginative approach will be needed if even this aspiration is to be met. One area that should be looked at further at a local scale for example is the role of woodfuel, particularly as a short term interim measure to bridge the gap before more sophisticated technologies on other forms of renewables are developed, as long as harvesting is carried out sensitively and respects the biodiversity, scale and cultural importance of the sites involved, especially ancient woods. A higher profile for woodfuel has the potential to bring benefits to woodland owners and the local economy, providing employment opportunities in timber harvesting and transport and supply chains. We favour the promotion of small scale heat and power plants. These schemes should serve local users and use timber from local woods.


  8.  Creating and sustaining woodland also helps to counter emissions of CO2 through storing carbon (carbon sequestration) and under the Kyoto Protocol countries can offset CO2 emissions through woodland establishment. Whilst this is helpful it can never be sufficient to counter climate change by itself. For example, the Government is committed to a reduction in emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2010 and the present rate of woodland expansion will contribute about 0.25%. The Scottish Forest Alliance, comprised of the Woodland Trust Scotland, RSPB Scotland, BP and Forest Enterprise are currently undertaking exemplar, sustainable forestry management projects in Scotland which, amongst other objectives, are seeking to evaluate, research and demonstrate the contribution of sustainable forest management projects to carbon sequestration in Scotland.

  9.  However, leaving aside the scientific debate surrounding sequestration, woodland establishment has an important role to play in building public understanding of the issues surrounding climate change through engaging the wider public in action to improve their local environment. This is precisely the kind of activity which can meet the Prime Minister's stated aspiration to re-invigorate Local Agenda 21.[21]


  10.  Another effective way of engaging the public is through "citizen science"—the involvement of the public in recording signs of climate change. The Woodland Trust is a lead partner in the UK Phenology Network (UKPN along with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), the largest phenology network in the world. We feel that our success in inspiring thousands of people to get involved and record for themselves the impact of climate change on the plants and animals in gardens, parks and woods is of considerable relevance to the raising of awareness about climate change (and its impact on the natural world.) It provides a simple but meaningful way for people to engage with the issue and make a difference. The scientific data resulting from this research was alluded to in the Prime Minister's recent speech on climate change.[22]

  11.  We have also just launched extending phenology to 4-18 year olds. Feedback from our recorders makes it clear that recording really opens their eyes to nature, and how nature is changing, and they are proud to feel part of a community that is really "doing something" to make a difference. A natural next step is to consider one's own lifestyle, embracing the climate change message, based on what they have seen with their own eyes.


  12.  The reality that climate change is already with us was acknowledged by the Prime Minister in his recent speech: "our activities have come to affect our atmosphere, oceans, geology, chemistry and biodiversity . . . Extreme events are becoming more frequent . . . Animals and plants are responding to an earlier spring, Sea levels are rising.[23] . The UK Climate Change Programme, published in 2000, addressed "Impacts and Adaptation" but this only formed a very small part of a much wider strategy. The need to adapt has become ever more apparent since then. Published scenarios on the likely scale of climate change were not as alarming as subsequent results published more recently. Mitigation efforts, while crucial in tempering the worst effects of accelerating climate change are now widely accepted as being insufficient to prevent climate change taking place. This means that adaptation strategies must be accorded a much more prominent role in the revised strategy.

  13.  In setting out its terms of reference for its review of the UK Climate Change Programme the Government has stated that: "The UK, through the Climate Change programme can demonstrate to the global community that economic prosperity and reductions in emissions can go together".[24] The Woodland Trust believes that adaptation to the reality that climate change is already with us can also go hand in hand with economic prosperity as well as being a vital policy driver for environmental policy in its own right. As the report, Climate Change and Nature: Adapting for the Future put it: "While more aggressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are undoubtedly needed, effective and efficient sustainable development depends upon climate change adaptation becoming a part of natural resource policy and practice".[25] It is therefore essential that there is the greatest possible "read-across" between the revised UK Climate Change Programme, the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, the revised UK Sustainable Development Strategy, the implementation of the Water Framework Directive and the land use planning system.

  14.  The greatest threat faced by biodiversity is climate change and there is a solid body of evidence to show that the effects are already being felt. UK Phenology Network research shows that there is a marked difference in the timing of leafing of oak and ash for example, in the wake of average spring temperatures rising in the last decade. Other data shows disturbing patterns emerging with birds, insects and plants all responding at relatively different rates.

  15.  In their current state, key habitats such as ancient woodland are simply not sustainable in a time of rapid environmental change, given their fragmented character and the immobile nature of many of their characteristic species, which are locked in by the present environmentally hostile landscape within which such habitats exist. It is now widely accepted that the species compositions of semi-natural habitats will change considerably. The recent research programme MONARCH—(Modelling Natural Resource Responses to Climate Change), undertaken by the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford for a consortium of Government agencies and NGOs, used models to analyse the impact on future location of suitable "climate envelopes" for a number of species. The research clarifies the need to allow for spatial movement of species in response to climate change which, coupled with the existing problems of landscape fragmentation, provide some key pointers for adaptive action which should be at the heart of an expanded adaptation section in the revised UK Climate Change programme.[26]

  16.  We must therefore develop and implement strategies that enable the widest possible biodiversity to survive and evolve. All semi-natural habitats need to be part of ecologically functional landscapes, so that wildlife has the space it needs to adapt and evolve in the face of environmental change.

  17.  This means a focus on significantly increasing the area of biodiverse habitats which are unaffected by surrounding environmentally hostile activities through the restoration of degraded habitats and extensions to existing habitats. This also means continuing and energising the shift towards a landscape- scale approach rather than the site-centred mindset which has dominated conservation policy in the UK. This is a strong example of the kind of requirement for a visionary approach which is often called for by decision makers in relation to mitigation but is also equally important in relation to adaptation. The building blocks of such an approach must be the protection of all semi-natural habitats through the planning system and the facilitation of a landscape scale approach which seeks to marry adaptation strategies for the natural world with sustainable land use planning through Regional Spatial Strategies and Local Development Frameworks.

  18.  Such an approach entails concentrating on conservation of the areas with the greatest potential to be placed on a more sustainable footing[27] and the creation of further semi-natural habitats, both woodland and open ground and more wildlife-friendly land use practices, especially in agriculture. Actions to reduce the intensity of land use in the "intervening matrix" between protected areas will also make landscapes more accommodating to biodiversity and enhance their ability to deliver a wider range of benefits to society. As a recent report summarised it: "Our current biodiversity is seed corn for the future. Protected areas need to be secured as fortresses from which biodiversity can advance out into the wider landscape or seascape".[28]

  19.  This vision is not at odds with society's needs; as well as being good conservation practice anyway, it can contribute towards rural development, flood alleviation, recreation and tourism and deliver a variety of other benefits to society. In short, through "Working with the Grain of Nature" as the title of the England Biodiversity Strategy has it[29], there are enormous opportunities to deliver upon all three strands of sustainable development and this is backed up by a growing body of research. As The Prime Minister put it : ". . .business opportunities as well as protecting the world we live in." [30] Recent research undertaken by ERM and Professor Ken Willis for the Woodland Trust shows that woodland, for example, is able to deliver on 11 of the 15 headline indicators of sustainable development.[31] This offers a powerful indication of the benefits which can accrue to society from environmental protection and enhancement in the face of climate change. There is a need for further applied research of this kind that can help us to model approaches which deliver such public benefits across the board through sound environmental planning. This is also why the links between the UK Climate Change Programme and the revised UK Sustainable Development Strategy are so crucial.

  20.  It is essential that climate change is built into many areas of mainstream policy-making. An holistic cross-Government approach to issues surrounding climate change and water policy for example, could help to tackle other problems such as diffuse pollution, biodiversity, recreation and flooding enabling the simultaneous delivery of a wide range of sustainable development indicators. The kind of action needed means it is vital that the revised programme informs action across Government and is not simply seen as the province of Defra. In particular, the commitment of the Treasury and ODPM are crucial to securing the investment, incentivisation and links with land use planning that are required to make effective adaptation strategies a reality.


  21.  We welcome the indication the Government has given of its intention to focus on climate change as a major priority within these roles. There are a number of steps in which it can provide much needed strong leadership and inject urgency into international discussions and action. Among these are the integration of the environment into a wide range of other policy areas across Europe following the publication of the new EU Sustainable Development Strategy, the inclusion of aviation in the EU emissions trading scheme and the moving forward of the recent "Message from Malahide" which identified 18 objectives and related targets to help meet the EU target of halting loss of biodiversity by 2010.

  22.  The G8 Presidency is an enormous opportunity and we welcome the Prime Minister's intention to host an international scientific meeting at the Hadley Centre prior to the G8 meeting in order to focus attention on the big questions the G8 summit must address.

30 September 2004

17   Writing in Science January 2004. Back

18   European Commission DG Environment. Back

19   Prime Minister Speech on climate change, 14 September 2004. Back

20   Transport 2000 and the Ashden Trust (2000) The Plane Truth: Aviation and the Environment, p 22. Back

21   Prime Minister Speech on Climate Change 14 September 2004. Back

22   Prime Minister Speech on Climate Change 14 September 2004. Back

23   Prime Minister Speech on Climate Change 14 September 2004. Back

24   Defra News Release 359/04 Review of UK Climate Change Programme-Terms of Reference Announced. Back

25   English Nature, IUCN- The World Conservation Union, RSPB, UNEP, WWF, (2003 )) Climate Change and Nature: Adapting for the Future. Information paper for the Vth World Parks Congress.. Back

26   Harrison, PA, Berry, PM and Dawson, TP, (eds), (2001), Climate Change and Nature Conservation in Britain and Ireland: Modelling natural resource responses to climate change (the MONARCH project): Technical Report. UKCIP, Oxford. Back

27   See Woodland Trust (2002) "Space for Nature". Back

28   "Climate Change and Nature: Adapting Conservation Strategies to Climate Change". Back

29   Defra (2003) "Working with the Grain of Nature; a Biodiversity Strategy for England". Back

30   Prime Minister 14 September 2004 op.cit. Back

31   ERM and Professor Ken Willis (2004) "Making Woodland Count; Its contribution to our quality of life.". (Woodland Trust). Back

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