We still have the chance to avert climate disaster if the Government urgently turns to decisive action instead of meaningless rhetoric and delay. That decisive action must include dramatically increasing tree cover. Trees have a vital role to play in tackling the climate and ecological emergency as a method of reducing emissions and mitigating the effects of the climatic changes and extreme weather events.
Not only do trees store huge amounts of carbon, ensuring that it’s not released into the atmosphere, but they’re a tool for reducing flood risk – a single young street tree can reduce rain runoff by approximately 60 per cent even in winter without any leaves.
The UK’s Climate Change Committee has said that if the UK is to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, tree coverage will have to rise to 19 per cent. Britain is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, with our tree coverage standing at 13 per cent, meaning we will need a seismic increase in current planting rates. At the same time as increasing tree-planting, we also need to increase the proportion of UK-grown native species if we are to prevent pests and diseases in our tree stock.
That’s why the plan to shut Yorkshire’s Wykeham tree nursery, in April 2022 is so fundamentally wrong. By turning its back on Wykeham, the Government is failing another northern coastal town, and shirking its responsibility to address the climate emergency.
The nursery has been a longstanding source of reliable work in the Scarborough area, with 10 employees, 30 agency workers, a local haulage firm, a cleaning firm, and various small food businesses who will all lose out.
At a time when we need to scale up native tree planting, and when UK tree nurseries struggle to supply enough native trees to meet demand, closing Wykeham will greatly limit our ability to meet tree planting targets. The loss of expertise will mean increasing our dependence on commercial imports of live trees with the risk of introducing pests and diseases.
The Government’s failing approach is fostering an over-reliance on commercial imports, making us susceptible to pests and diseases. Since 1990, 19 new damaging tree pests and diseases have become established in the UK, devastating our natural environment.
Ash dieback alone is threatening millions of ash trees and could cost our economy an estimated £15bn. The Woodland Trust says that these threats to our trees are due to the 10-fold increase in live plant imports over the same period.
To phase out live plant imports, protect our native woodlands, and deliver on climate and biodiversity targets, we need more British tree nurseries. The proposed closure of Wykeham nursery is yet another example of the Government’s lacklustre ambition on tree-planting, with the details of their England Trees Action Plan leaving a lot to be desired.
While the plan commits the UK to meet the Climate Change Committee’s minimum recommended planting target, the target for England is less than a quarter of the UK-wide goals, with tree coverage here only increasing from 10 to 12 per cent.
Clearly, Ministers are expecting devolved Governments in Scotland and Wales to plant more than their fair share. The climate and ecological emergency require that we step up tree coverage across the UK.
Instead of laying off tree nursery workers and losing their skills in growing native species suited to our soils, habitats, and weather conditions, we could be expanding our environmental and green sector.
Labour’s plan to buy, make and sell more locally and across Britain, means investing to get our green economic recovery blossoming. We’ll work with colleges and universities to make sure we’re honing the skills and apprenticeships we need for the jobs of the future.
If the Government is serious about the climate and ecological emergency, Ministers would reverse the decision to close Wykeham nursery, publish ambitious and equitable planting targets for the whole country, and a strategy for increasing our native tree-growing capacity. Now is the time to rise to the challenges of the climate and ecological crises and create the good, green, unionised jobs of the future.