Natural capital – Bringing the good life to all with woods and trees
The Woodland Trust hosted a fringe event at the Conservative party conference addressed by Defra Minister Rory Stewart, and chaired by Woodland Trust President and broadcaster Clive Anderson.
Clive began by explaining that the Woodland Trust currently manages 1000 woodland sites in the UK and has over 500,000 supporters. He said the aim of the Trust was to protect native trees and woods, particularly ancient woodland, and to inspire people to appreciate woods on their doorstep and in the countryside. He then set out some of the contemporary challenges facing woods and trees.
These were highlighted further by Beccy Speight, CEO of the Woodland Trust, who drew particular attention to the accelerating rate of ancient woodland loss, the Trust’s work with landowners and emerging policy initiatives the Trust has been involved in, such as the
Right to Beauty. Beccy welcomed the Government’s 25 year plan for nature, since rural Britain had changed so much in the last 30 years.
Richard Howard, Head of Environment and Energy at Policy Exchange, explained the concept of natural capital, stating that “the natural environment has been undervalued in policy terms” and adding that natural capital as a concept offered “a completely new way of thinking about nature and the environment”.
Tiverton and Honiton MP Neil Parish, Chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said that while he supported the planting of more trees and opening up private woodland to the public, he called for additional incentives for farmers to plant more trees on their land.
Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Rory Stewart MP outlined the challenge posed by the many competing demands on the land, and said the major threat to woodland and environmental conservation was increased house building, with as many as three million new homes needing to be built in Britain.
Indeed, the discussion ranged from the extent to which the natural environment has been undervalued in decision making, to the limits of the natural capital approach and the need to ensure that those delivering on this agenda are properly rewarded. There was a strong emphasis in Rory Stewart’s final remarks on the importance of people working together on a shared agenda.
Another major focus, both on banners around the room and in the packs given to attendees was a report the Woodland Trust is launching this conference season on
woodland indicators by constituency. This aims to bring home to attendees how their individual constituency is faring in terms of ancient woods under threat, number of veteran trees, community tree packs requested and people’s opportunity – or more often the lack of it – to access woods.
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