The Woodland Trust along with 48 other organisations are calling for a new national charter for trees to be signed in 2017, the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, signed in 1217 by Henry III.
Due to be launched in November 2017, the charter will be created using the shared memories, stories and experiences of people across the UK, in order to build a picture of our relationship with woods and trees.
The charter will recognise the importance trees play in people’s lives and would ensure future generations could benefit from them by ensuring access to nature and protection of ancient woodland and other woodland habitats. It would also cover forestry, the importance of new planting, making sure landscapes are resilient to change and, perhaps more controversially (or so opponents of natural capital analysis such as George Monbiot may say) their financial and capital value.
Tree have immense value in terms of aiding our health and wellbeing and recent research by Europe Economics has estimated the economic value of our woodlands to be in the region of £270billion. Their intrinsic value cannot be underestimated and they are hugely valuable for our happiness, our health and allow us to connect with our natural heritage. They provide us with clean air, flood defences, pollution absorption, wildlife habitat, recreational spaces, learning opportunities and a source for stories.
However, they are under threat. Britain’s woodland cover now stands at just 13% (barely a third of the European average of 37%). Of particular concern is ancient woodland cover, which stands at just 2%. 276 ancient woods have suffered loss or damage since 1999, with another 588 still under threat. Further, currently 85% of ancient woodland is unprotected by government legislation. Trees are threatened by policy as well as natural hazards. Pollution, climate change, pests and diseases such as Phytophthora ramorum and Chalara (Ash Dieback), a decline in the forestry workforce and numbers of students enrolling on forestry courses, lack of enthusiasm on the part of landowners to put farmland down to trees and of course threats from development all threaten trees in the future.
The ambition of the charter is to raise awareness of the plight of trees and get us to fall in love with them once again. It appears that we may now take them for granted but they should be at the heart of our communities and our lives. Indeed, they are embedded in our stories and whether we like it or not their stories have shaped our landscape, our economy and our society throughout history.
To get people involved, people across the UK are being asked to share their stories about trees that are important to them for whatever reason.
We all have trees that are special to us. A tree that I will remember forever (it sadly fell to the ground in a storm in 2000) is the great Turkey Oak that stood in the grounds of the Old Rectory in the village where I grew up. Sadly I do not have a good close up picture of it but in the photograph below it can be seen just right of centre. It was an enormous tree with a wide spreading canopy and it seemed to watch over the trees surrounding it; a matriarch within the landscape and a comforting sense of continuity within an area faced by immense economic and population change.
I would be very interested to hear about your own favourite trees and why they are special to you. I also urge you to get involved with the Charter for Trees campaign.
Time doesn’t allow for it currently but in a future post I will explore how the Charter of the Forests came about in 1217, its legacy and how we got to the place whereby a new charter for trees is required.