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Tree Planting

Volume 671: debated on Thursday 6 February 2020

Our manifesto commits us to increase tree planting to a rate of 30,000 hectares a year by 2025 across the UK. Our £640 million nature for climate fund will help us to deliver a massive uplift in tree planting, as part of wider efforts to become a net zero carbon economy.

The Secretary of State will know that many of us are leading on planting plans in our constituencies, working closely with local councils, local wildlife trusts and so on. A good example is the new arboretum at lower Westgate Street in Gloucester, which was planted at the beginning of January. However, does she agree that there is a risk that, however many thousands of trees we plant in our constituencies, somebody will always say that we should have done much more? Is there an opportunity for some independent body to make an objective assessment of how many trees can realistically be planted in urban constituencies such as mine?

My hon. Friend makes a good point about setting appropriate targets. We plan to work closely with local authorities as we drive forward with our commitment to plant more trees. The Environment Bill contains important changes to the planning system—for example, an environmental net gain—that will encourage investment in nature, biodiversity and tree planting.

Does the Secretary of State agree with me and the Woodland Trust that we need to get local councils writing emergency tree plans that identify land for tree planting, and that we need to ensure that developments that come forward from housing developers include a minimum of 30% tree canopy cover?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s ambition for tree planting in his local area. As I have said, changes to the planning system should incentivise investment in tree planting and nature. Programmes such as the urban tree challenge fund could provide a great opportunity for local authorities to play their part in delivering this tree-planting effort.

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the pupils of Good Shepherd Catholic Primary School in my constituency, who recently planted 130 saplings in a new eco-area at the school? Does she agree that the new eco-area at the school will be a great educational resource for the students, helping them to learn more about the natural world while also helping to improve the local environment in Coventry North East?

I do congratulate them; it sounds like a wonderful effort. Our Environment Bill provides for local nature recovery strategies that are led by the local authority, but which I very much hope will involve engagement with schools and enthusiastic groups such as the one mentioned by the hon. Member.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the prime purpose of planting trees in the present climate crisis is to provide an effective carbon sink to produce the negative carbon emissions that offset other carbon emissions in a net-zero world? The Committee on Climate Change suggests that that means planting perhaps up to 50,000 hectares of trees per annum up to 2050—perhaps 2.4 billion trees. Does she agree that the present target in the clean growth plan of 11 million trees is tiny—especially as it is currently being missed by 71%—and almost amounts to “greenwash”? When is she going to get real on tree planting and management, and adopt measures that will secure the billions of trees we need and not the millions she is projecting?

Where I would agree with the shadow Minister is that we do need massively to step up our tree planting in this country, and that is what we are determined to do, particularly by working with the devolved authorities as well. I encourage everyone to take the message out to their constituents that they can get involved with these programmes through the countryside stewardship woodland creation grant, the woodland creation planning grant, the woodland carbon fund, the woodland carbon guarantee and the urban tree challenge fund. We will soon be consulting on a tree strategy for England to drive forward further the crucial task of planting more trees in this country.

Councils are required to deliver a five-year supply of sites for housing. Has not the time come for us to require councils to provide a five-year supply of sites for tree planting?

That is a very interesting idea. I hope that the process of local nature recovery strategies that we are establishing under the Environment Bill will embrace the kind of idea that my hon. Friend has just floated.