Calls for 200m new trees to protect UK against floods

Posted On: 
29th January 2016

MPs and peers are set to consider how planting trees could help to prevent flooding, as families across the UK continue to deal with the aftermath of the latest bout of extreme weather. 

In the wake of the devastating floods that hit the country in recent months, the relationship between forestry and flooding will be top of the agenda at next month’s meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry (APPGF).

Parliamentarians will address the growing concerns around the performance of flood defences which were raised during December's heavy rain, focussing on the potential for more natural flood management - including tree planting.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, vice-chair of the APPGF and MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, has called for the Government to show greater ambition on tree planting targets - suggesting 200 million new trees as a suitable target during the current parliament. The existing target is just 11 million new trees to 2020.

Speaking ahead of the APPGF meeting, Ms Trevelyan said: "Research shows tree planting can have an impact on water flows within a year, but we need to look to the long-term and try to prevent the constant recurrence of these catastrophic events. Tree planting as part of natural flood management programmes is absolutely crucial to making real progress on this."

Chris Davies, MP for Brecon and Radnorshire and Chair of the APPGF, added: "This is a timely opportunity for the Group to consider the important role of tree planting in reducing future flood risks - and to listen more to the science behind the headlines."

Tim Farron, Liberal Democrat Leader & MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale in flood affected Cumbria said:

"We need to embrace natural capital solutions in addition to hard flood defences if we are to respond to our changing climate effectively and protect our communities. Tree planting, woodland creation and restoration, as well as upper water management schemes all need to be properly considered as part of our response to flooding, and I look forward to the Group learning more on this.”

The APPGF will also hear about the science behind planting trees, particularly the ability of new woodland in the uplands to have a significant effect on water flows downstream - helping to protect communities from the kind of devastating floods seen in the last few weeks.

Speakers at the APPGF will include Tom Nisbet of Forest Research, an expert on the relationship between forestry and water - and Andrew Heald, Technical Director of Confor: promoting forestry and wood.

Mr Nisbet wrote the report The Role of Productive Woodlands in Water Management - published in November 2014 - and Mr Heald is producing an updated document on forestry and flooding for the APPGF meeting.

Mr Heald's report includes case studies of tree planting as part of natural flood management schemes in England, Scotland and Wales. It stresses the multiple additional benefits of tree planting to reduce flood risks - delivering a strategic timber supply, cutting carbon emissions, encouraging wildlife and providing greater recreational opportunities.

Representatives from The Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission England will also attend the APPGF event. Confor and The Woodland Trust have already called for a joint meeting with Environment Secretary Liz Truss on the subject. Austin Brady, Director of Conservation at the Woodland Trust said:

“It is heartening to see natural approaches to flood risk management and a whole catchment based approach to flood risk being discussed as part of the recent response to flooding. We know that tree planting alone is unlikely to have protected all those who have suffered the misery of flooding in the north of England but, if planted in the right place, at the right scale, and in conjunction with other measures, they can slow the flow of flood waters and reduce the scale of some flood events.”

“We would like to see much more done to ensure that natural flood risk management measures are part of the portfolio of actions considered when addressing flood risk. We are hopeful that a catchment-based assessment of flood risk including the role that land use and management is playing in contributing to risk, will lead to a greater focus on investing in natural measures, finding ways of working with nature to compliment the resources needed to improve more traditional flood defences.”

The APPGF on Forestry meets on Tuesday 2nd February, from 11.45am, followed by lunch at 12.45pm, in Committee Room N at Portcullis House.

There is also a  petition  before Parliament on making tree planting a priority to reduce flooding, which has received more than 25,000 signatures within less than three weeks.