Sir William Worsley: Trees must be at the heart of our environmental vision

Sir William Worsley is the Government's new Tree Champion.
Sir William Worsley is the Government's new Tree Champion.
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FORESTRY is in my blood. I grew up at Hovingham, in the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and trees are, and will continue to be, a hugely important part of my life.

Indeed, I was brought up walking around the woods near our home by my father and grandfather, who both loved the trees and forests.

Tree-felling work has caused controversy in Sheffield.

Tree-felling work has caused controversy in Sheffield.

Not only is there beauty in a landscape rooted with trees, but they improve our health and wellbeing, support biodiversity and help to grow our economy.

The National Forest, in the Midlands, was once an area blighted by heavy industry, mining and mineral extraction– and I’ve seen first-hand how trees have transformed it into a thriving habitat for wildlife and regenerated communities.

It’s clear to me just how passionately people feel about trees.

And perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Sheffield, where the strength of feeling from local
residents about their cherished green spaces has been unprecedented in scale.

Citizens have, rightly, raised concerns about the sheer number of trees being felled locally, and the way this has been carried out.

This isn’t surprising as trees in urban areas are so important. Birmingham, one of our most wooded cities, has 23 per cent woodland cover and is good example of a city that benefits for it’s trees.

If you fly into Heathrow Airport you can see how many trees and green spaces there are in London, which has 21.9 per cent woodland cover, and how key they are to making it a city where people want to live and work.

All over the country, in cities such as Sheffield, questions are being asked of local authorities.

That is why one of the first steps I’ve taken in my new role as the country’s Tree Champion is to request more information on what is happening in Sheffield.

The Forestry Commission is now conducting a formal investigation into the tree felling being undertaken by Sheffield City Council as part of the Streets Ahead programme. I will let that process take it’s course and consider the findings of that investigation carefully.

In this role, I’ve been tasked with helping to prevent unnecessary felling taking place by local authorities, and to support the Government in its introduction of a new duty on councils to properly consult with their communities before they fell street trees.

There will always be times when trees will need to be cut down – for example when they’ve come to 
the end of their life or are posing a danger to the community – but alternatives should always be considered.

This is an issue close to the heart of many, but my role as the Tree Champion will go beyond just safeguarding the trees in our towns and cities. More broadly, I want to look at growing woodland cover across the country as a whole.

The new Northern Forest, stretching across the country from Hull to Liverpool, is just one such initiative that needs support.

This is not a job where I’ll be sitting behind a desk.

I’ll be out and about, speaking with, and listening to, local communities, mayors, councils, landowners, farmers and NGOs. I’ll be banging the drum for forestry and drawing on the vast array of expertise that’s out there.

It’s only through tapping into
local knowledge and embracing our heritage that we’ll be able to drive
a real step change in tree planting and meet the Government’s target to
plant 11 million trees across the country.

Earlier this year the Government published an ambitious 25 Year Environment Plan – a roadmap for a greener future which places our forests and woodlands at its heart and sets out how to protect our environment for the next generation.

I’m honoured to be able to play a part of helping to achieve this vision.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my life arguing for the importance and benefit of trees, and being the first national Tree Champion is a responsibility I won’t be taking lightly.

The role is going to be a challenging one – but I’m confident I’m up to the task at hand.

Sir William Worsley is the Government’s newly-appointed Tree Champion. A North Yorkshire landowner, he’s a former president of the CLA.