Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Woodland Trust

1. The Woodland Trust is the UK’s leading woodland conservation charity. We have three aims: to enable the creation of more native woods and places rich in trees; to protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future; and to inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees. We own over 1,000 sites, 20,000 ha, of which 20% is farmed. We have 300,000 members and supporters.


2. There is a growing body of evidence1,2,3 that demonstrates the value of native woodland to the management of the water environment. However, lower cost, natural options for water management are often ignored as the benefits of nature are not always instantly visible or cross the boundaries between regulatory frameworks (agriculture/water/pollution). This is regrettable as woods and trees provide low cost solutions to some of the challenges that the Water White Paper aims to address.

3. The Water White Paper acknowledges the potential for a more joined-up, holistic response to the management of water resources but identifies few definite mechanisms to achieve these aims, nor provides a timetable for delivery

The Role of Trees in Water Management

4. Woodland can be highly beneficial for water quality, quantity and the overall health of the water ecosystem:

Turbidity/siltation and river bank stability—trees and their roots improve soil structure and stability; increasing soil infiltration, reducing soil erosion, maintaining good water clarity and improving soil organic matter.

Eutrophication—the washing of excessive nutrients (from intensive land use) into watercourses is a major problem. Water draining from native woodland has a lower nutrient content as trees act as a buffer.

Pesticides and other chemicals—watercourses in native woodland are generally free of chemicals pollutants. Riparian woodland acts as a protection buffer.

Flooding—trees and woodland can reduce localised flooding and alleviate the effects of larger floods by: slowing the rate water reaches the ground, increasing soil infiltration so reducing the amount of run off, improving flood storage and slowing the overall rate of flood water movement.

Temperature—trees provide shade and prevent watercourse temperatures rising too high, thereby protecting aquatic life from over heating, as warmer water contains less oxygen.

Groundwater quality and recharge—trees intercept ground and airborne pollution allowing cleaner water to infiltrate soil. Trees can increase the level of groundwater recharge significantly when compared with intensively managed crops.

5. Woodland can also be part of the problem where poorly sited or badly managed woodland can lead to, for example, acidification from conifer plantations, increased water demand from change of grassland to woodland and local increase in flood risk from the change of conifer to broadleaf woodland.

6. All impacts from woodland depend on the underlying geology, scale, climate and type of management practiced which is why any decisions on land use change should be made at a catchment level.

Barriers to Effective Use of Land Management for Water Resource Conservation

7. We welcome the emphasis on the Water Framework Directive, the catchment approach and Government’s support of water industry investment in catchment management as well as the commitment to use CAP reform and agri-environment more effectively.

8. The Water White Paper identifies the need to move towards integrating and aligning existing processes and initiatives relating to water, but fails to identify how to achieve the fully integrated framework necessary (eg joined up Nature Improvement Areas, catchments for Water Framework Directive delivery and approaches to Flood Risk Management) in order to deliver the Government’s ambition to halt biodiversity loss, support healthy functioning ecosystems and establish coherent ecological networks as well as delivering a cost effective and sustainable water resource for all.

9. While we welcome the commitment to consider new mandatory measures should voluntary approaches fail, there is no guidance on when it might be appropriate to consider this option. There is also a lack of clarity about how and when existing baseline regulation will be incorporated into the catchment approach. Defra and the Environment Agency need to commit to tackling diffuse pollution through advice and incentives, underpinned by effective implementation of existing regulation, with a clear timetable for introducing further regulation if existing measures do not meet defined objectives.

23 January 2012


1 Calder, IR, Harrison, J, Nisbet, TR and Smithers, RJ (2008) Woodland actions for biodiversity and their role in water management, The Woodland Trust

2 Nisbet, TR, Silgram, M, Shah, N, Morrow, K and Broadmeadow, S (2011) Woodland for Water: Woodland measures for meeting Water Framework Directive objectives, Forest Research

3 UK National Ecosystem Assessment (2011) The UK National Ecosystem Assessment Technical Report. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge

Prepared 4th July 2012