Update 19 September 2019
The motion was passed by Shropshire Council with only one councillor voting against.
Shropshire is a green county but it has lost a lot of hedgerows and a lot of trees in recent decades. There has been some replanting but Ludlow conservation areas alone have lost close to 200 trees in the last five years. We are due to lose around 100 trees on Foldgate Lane alone. Trees will be replanted in compensation but it will be decades before they mature and replace existing tree cover. At a time when a majority of public authorities have declared a climate emergency, including Shropshire Council and Ludlow Town Council, we must accelerate our efforts to plant trees and protect biodiversity.
Tomorrow, Thursday, Shropshire Council will discuss a motion written by myself and signed by Lib Dem councillors to plant 345,000 trees across the unitary council area by 2050. That will be one tree for every resident. I am also proposing a tree bank scheme to will encourage landowners and householders to pay for two new trees to be planted elsewhere for every tree felled.
The council motion
Shropshire Council declared a Climate Emergency at its May 2019 meeting. This council supports the work in progress by the council and its partners to reduce its carbon emissions, including the creation of a task and finish group to map the route forward to zero carbon. The formation of a working group does not rule out Council establishing initiatives where there is a clear need to so do in the context of the declared climate emergency.
The role that trees can play in mitigating the increase in atmospheric CO2 and promoting biodiversity is well understood. But this council has not set out a specific ambition for increasing tree cover in the county. This motion declares such an ambition and provides an innovative mechanism for helping achieve it. The mechanism, the Shropshire Tree Bank, recognises that sometimes householders, housing providers, landowners and developers cannot replace felled trees on site but would welcome the opportunity for substitute planting.
Specifically, this council resolves:
1) To declare its ambition to ensure that at least one additional tree is planted in the unitary area for every resident before 2050 – an estimated 345,000 trees.
2) To create a Shropshire Tree Bank. Where a tree is lost without replacement, the council should encourage a voluntary financial contribution towards the Tree Bank, a central pot that will distribute free native saplings each autumn (perhaps in a similar manner to the council’s earlier Free Tree Scheme).
By way of indication, those felling a tree without replacement might be encouraged to pay for two saplings at £5 each. This fee would be more than adequate to cover the cost of the saplings and contribute towards administrative, storage and distribution costs. The scheme might be administered by Shropshire Council or an independent body.
The scheme would initially be open to householders, housing providers and landowners. Scope for opening extending the scheme to developers will need to be considered in the context of the government’s proposals to mandate biodiversity net gain for most developments in the forthcoming Environment Bill.
Since submitting this motion, both the Environment Bill and Agriculture Bill have fallen with the prorogation of parliament by Boris Johnson. It is expected that they will be resubmitted after the Queen’s Speech. But the current government is more sceptical about climate change and the severity of the climate emergency than its predecessor. I worry that the environmental commitment in these bills will be watered down by a government that could be desperate to show business as usual after Brexit and anxious to avoid any economic shocks.