Andrew Lewis: Local government leads forest creation

Planting trees is one of the few interventions that generates a negative net carbon result at low cost without resorting to new technologies, writes the chief executive of Cheshire West and Chester Council.

Andrew Lewis will speak at the LGC Net Zero 2022 Virtual Conference on June 14-15. Click here to consult the program and reserve your place.

It was a cold December day and the solid ground made for a hard day of planting trees. The location was far from the leafy rural idyll sometimes associated with Cheshire: looming a short distance away were the towers, pipes and blazes of the Ellesmere Port industrial estate, emitting some of the UK’s highest concentrations of carbon ; the hum of the M56 could be heard close, and even closer, to the sights and smells of the Gowy landfill.

Andrew Lewis, Chief Executive of Cheshire West and Chester Council

And yet, these local reminders of the global climate emergency made Picton Farm the most fitting place to mark a small but meaningful response. The six-hectare site now has over 12,000 trees and 300 meters of hedgerows, as well as other habitats for local wildlife. When fully in place, it will store over 2,300 tonnes of carbon.

As a stand-alone environmental initiative, that would be worthwhile on its own. But, above all, this particular intervention is so much more. Picton Farm is just one part of a major national initiative, led by local government across the country.

Trees for Climate is a key part of the UK’s tree planting strategy over the next decade. It aims to plant 7,000 hectares by 2025, offsetting 2 million tonnes of carbon.

Community forests

In a rare example of a responsible national initiative through local council, Cheshire West and Chester Council is acting as lead agency for a £133m investment from the Department for the Environment, ‘Food and Rural Affairs. Already this season, 600 hectares have been planted, with twice this cover already assembled for future years’ planting.

Trees for Climate is made possible by the community forestry movement, which in 30 years has planted 16 million trees in urban and rural communities across the country. They are experts not only at planting trees in the ground, but also at the incredible range of ecosystem services, from cooling our urban centers, supporting biodiversity, enabling tourism, managing the flow of water. water, improving air quality and improving mental health.

The LGC Net Zero 2022 Virtual Conference will take place June 14-15. Click here to consult the program and reserve your place

Mersey Forest has almost doubled the forest cover of our region, from the Cheshire countryside to the heart of Liverpool. And they are now part of plans for the Northern Forest – a coast-to-coast corridor of 50million trees, delivering wider economic benefits of £2.5billion.

And the movement is growing, with new Community Forests recently added from Newcastle to Plymouth, creating a network of 13 locally-led initiatives, forming a powerful network to realize a bold national ambition.

In total, Community Forests in England cover 76 local communities. In many cases, local authorities manage the community forest program or work closely with community forest teams.

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Forestry England is also reaching out to councils to help further forest expansion across the country. It offers a partnership pathway to create resilient, high-quality forests through long-term leases. The Forestry England Woodland Partnership offers guaranteed rent to local authority landowners in return for making land available for the creation of woodland for long-term rental periods of between 60 and 120 years.

As England’s largest land manager with 1,500 woodlands and forests in its care, Forestry England has the expertise and resources to design, plant and manage forests that can be resilient to climate change.

Tree planting has now begun to transform the land into an inspiring forest to deliver health and wellbeing benefits to the people of York

They will provide the personnel, knowledge and forestry machinery necessary to transform the land from its present use into prosperous and established woodland and bear the costs of such work. They are looking for sites as close to 50 hectares as possible and ideally larger. The land may be part of a local authority’s existing asset portfolio or may be acquired specifically for a partnership.

A partnership between York City Council and Forestry England is well on its way to creating York Community Woodland, a 76 hectare site. Tree planting has now begun to transform the land into an inspiring forest to provide health and wellness benefits to the people of York.

Once established, the forest will help nature recover across the landscape, providing habitat for valuable wildlife and helping to store carbon, mitigate soil erosion and prevent flooding.

Buckinghamshire Council are in discussions with Forestry England about woodland opportunities on their estate, and in West Cheshire we are working with Forestry England to consider an expansion of Delamere Forest.

natural health service

Like many councils, Cheshire West and Chester are now looking at new ways to achieve greater environmental and social benefits from our remaining land assets. Repurposing marginal farmland to create woodland now offers a commercially viable alternative to retaining or selling our residual farmland.

Queen’s Green Canopy marks Jubilee with national commitment to tree planting and forest stewardship

If climate and nature restoration were not reason enough for councils to embrace the need for trees, the evidence for wider community benefits is also clear.

The Natural Health Service is a social prescribing and community wellbeing program across Cheshire and Merseyside, supporting access to woodlands and the natural environment to improve health outcomes.

More than 4,000 vulnerable people have been supported since 2015, with remarkable results for children from difficult families, socially isolated elderly people, adults facing dementia, addiction, depression and people at risk of suicide.

This restorative impact of the forest has also made Mersey Forest our logical partner in reflecting on the impact of the Covid pandemic, with memorial arboretums established in communities across our borough. And the Queen’s Green Canopy, of which Chester is a champion city, marks the Jubilee with a national commitment to tree planting and forest management.

Leadership role

Let’s be clear, planting trees is not the solution to climate change. In West Cheshire, even with sweeping plans to save over 34,000 tonnes of carbon by planting 60-120 hectares a year, we predict trees will only close 0.9% of our climate gap.

Ellesmere Port will still need to invest billions to transfer its carbon shedding activities to the UK’s exemplary low-carbon site. This buzzing M56 will have to go electric, powered by fully renewable energy. We will still have to win the hearts and minds of our communities for the hard steps needed to change our lives and ways of life.

But here is a community response that we can all support. Planting trees provides wider health and social benefits. It is one of the few interventions that generates a negative bottom line at low cost and does not depend on new technologies. And local government is taking a leadership role.

Andrew Lewis, Chief Executive, Cheshire West and Chester Council

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