The Big Issue is that society and the environment are in the throws of duel and unfolding Climate and Ecological Emergencies. What are we going to do about it? An important first step is to recognise these threats. Both B&NES and North Somerset Councils have declared Climate and Ecological Emergencies and so have a number of Parish Councils in the area. Recognising these threats is important but the question remains “What are we going to do about them?”. One response that neatly addresses both climate and ecological concerns is planting trees and increasing woodland cover. Over the long-term trees both capture carbon from the atmosphere and provide habitat to wildlife.
The joint climate and ecological emergencies are two big issues. If planting trees is part of the solution then another big issues are where are the trees going to go, who is going to look after them and how are they going to be paid for? That is a lot of big issues to deal with and big issues need big solutions.
Trees planted now will mature in a different climate to the one we are now leaving behind. The Forestry Commission advises that the impacts of a “4℃ increase in average temperature and of a 10℃ increase during the hottest days in summer when writing a management plan for new and existing woodlands“. That is stark advice based on the worst case but plausible scenario. It means planning now for a different climate future.
Why is global heating and climate change happening? This says it all, in 60 seconds…
The ecological emergency goes hand-in-hand with the climate emergency and at the global level is no less than a mass extinction of species. What could be more serious than that? In the apparently bucolic Chew Valley this may be difficult to notice on a day to day basis but the loss of habitat such as hedgerows, loss of soil through erosion and loss of insect life through the industrial application of pesticides are all very real. Ask an older resident how many bugs were splattered on their car windscreen 50 years ago, or what happened if you left a window open and a light on on a late summer’s evening to realise how things have changed. The decline in insect numbers and species is an indicator of what else is going on in the ecosystem. Considering that pollinators provide a crucial ecosystem service to our food supply system we need to take action on restoring insect friendly habitats in which trees play a valuable role.
Increasing woodland cover and tree planting has become a hot political issue with the political parties falling over themselves to promise more woods. The current government’s target is to be planting 30,000 hectares of trees per year in the UK by the year 2025. This target is based on recommendations by the Committee on Climate Change which are to be planting between 30,000 and 50,000 hectares per year from now until 2050 in order to achieve net zero emissions. The UK is starting from a low base with some of the lowest woodland cover in Europe with just 13% woodland cover and only 10% in England.
As you will find in these pages the woodland cover in the Chew Valley is even lower than England’s 10%. This is an historic opportunity to shape the future landscape in a positive way, so we need to get it right.
To put the government’s planting target of 30,000 hectares per year into context, the area of the Chew Valley is about 14,000 hectares, or about half the annual total.