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Increasing tree planting targets could help fight flooding

Planting 200 million trees in England by 2020 could help prevent future flooding.


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Defra has been asked to increase its targets
Defra has been asked to increase its targets

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, suggested the existing 11 million target by 2020 should be increased almost 20-fold to 200 million trees.

 

The vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry made her call against the backdrop of the devastating floods which caused major damage and disruption in the north of England and Scotland.

 

In a move welcomed by the forestry sector, Ms Trevelyan said increased planting could help reduce flood risk in the long term.

 

Chief executive of Confor: forestry and wood - the sector’s trade body - Stuart Goodall said: “The terrible floods, especially in Cumbria, demonstrate that Government has to look at more than just flood defences. We need to hold rainwater in the hills so that the peak flow of water is reduced, helping flood defences to do their job.

 

“Planting productive forests manages water flow, while also helping wildlife, providing alternative income for farmers and locking up carbon - another very relevant current issue given the climate talks in Paris.”

 

In March Confor and Forest Research published The Role of Productive Woodlands in Water Management, a report which demonstrates how productive woodlands can reduce flood risk and protect British waterways.

 

Mr Goodall added: "Anne-Marie Trevelyan MP has made a sensible suggestion which is backed up by scientific evidence produced by the government’s Forest Research agency.

 

"I will be writing to Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Liz Truss asking her to give careful consideration to this proposal and offering our help to look again at how planting more trees can help reduce flood risk in the light of the weekend’s devastating floods".

 

During the House of Commons debate on flooding, Ms Trevelyan asked Defra if it would increase its tree planting target ‘as a matter of urgency’.

 

She added: “They would cover some 50,000 hectares, much of which could be in the upland areas of river basins, to help nature to hold water and to reduce the risk of flooding in the long term.”

 

Environment Secretary Truss said she agreed about ‘looking at the environment on a catchment level and making sure that we put in place tree-planting programmes that can both reduce flood risk and improve the environment at the same time’.

 

Together with the Woodland Trust, Confor has been lobbying the Government on its tree planting targets.

 

What are they asking for?

 

The planting of 7,000 hectares (ha) of woodland every year until 2020 (around 15 million trees per year)

Then increase that to 10,000 ha per year when the next Government is elected in 2020.


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Can planting trees prevent flooding?

Can planting trees prevent flooding?

Experts have said it is unlikely tree planting alone would have had a significant impact on reducing the level of flooding seen in Cumbria and the Scottish Borders last week, however trees can play an important role.

 

Diane Millis, Woodland Trust senior adviser on water and ecosystems, said it was vital tree planting takes place in ‘the right place and at the right scale’.

 

“Trees can help reduce the peaks on some flood events or slow the flow sufficiently to allow for more time to respond to flooding,” she said.

 

“We are pleased to see upstream measures, natural flood risk management and a catchment based approach to flood risk being discussed as part of the response to flooding in recent years.

 

“The trust whole heartedly supports a catchment-based approach to flood risk management that integrates natural flood risk measures with traditional flood risk schemes – with woodland, hedgerows, buffer strips and woody debris dams being among the many natural flood risk measures being considered and deployed.”

 

Ms Millis said the organisation supported the Environment Agency’s Working with Natural Processes (WWNP) research programme to tackle flood risk and develop technical guidance needed by flood and coastal risk management authorities.

 

Among the measures being looked at will be floodplain and riparian woodlands, cross-slope woodlands, tree shelter belts, gully woodlands and the restoration and creation of wet woodlands.

 

She added: “It is good to see Countryside Stewardship supporting woodland planting in areas where it is likely to reduce flood risk and we will be interested to see how much planting of this kind has been supported in the first year of the grant programme.

 

“Ultimately, we are likely to need more innovation around the incentives that are provided to farmers and land managers to ensure flood risk reduction benefits are maximised from the way land is used and managed.”

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