The fig leaf which is hiding a climate emergency in our district

We must plant more woodland as we have but a fig leaf left.

Trees need to be looked after: you don’t just plant them, you grow them. And we need to plant and grow 4 million of them in the Folkestone & Hythe District if we are  to achieve the  UK average woodland cover of 13%. However, at the current planting rate set by our council, it’ll take 99,000 years to achieve that.

To get the woodland cover to the average of 13% which is what it is for the whole of the UK, seven of the 13 councils need to plant approx 35 million more trees which would assist with carbon sequestration.

As of 31 March 2020, around 13% of the UK (3.2 million hectares) was covered by woodland.

Here in the County of Kent – The Garden of England – seven of the thirteen districts in Kent have less than the average UK woodland cover, according to data released by the Forestry Commission and analyzed by Friends of the Earth.

Folkestone and Hythe District has just 6.3% of its district covered by woodland, which is roughly 2,265 hectares – or 3 times the size of Otterpool Park (756 hectares).  To achieve the average for Kent – 13% – we need to plant another area 3 times the size of Otterpool Park, getting us to 4,536 hectares of woodland.

So how many trees would we need to plant?

It’s difficult to say precisely because trees can be planted at a density of anything between 1,000 and 2,500 per hectare. Taking the mid range point, 1,750 trees per hectare,  would mean we need to plant approximately 3,963,750 trees across the district.

But where in our district can we find these areas to plant these trees, as the council does NOT own enough land to solve the issue alone?

According to the Herrington Consulting 2015 -Strategic Flood Risk Assessment Report , 55% of the District is at or below sea level and the majority of Districts 41km coastline lies below the mean high water mark. So planting trees there is not a wise idea as sea levels are rising. This leaves the other 45% of land to plant the 4 million trees on. No landowner is going to voluntarily plant trees unless there is an incentive to do so, especially given the number of trees which need planting. The £4.75 million set aside by Folkestone & Hythe District Council for Green Initiatives would not cover the costs.

To make matters worse, the Council’s carbon action plan states we currently plant around 100 semi-mature trees a year with a focus on broad canopy trees for carbon uptake. Unfortunately this number will fall to just 30 to 40 a year, according to the Grounds Maintenance Initiatives presentation (page 8) given to the Climate & Ecological working group, chaired by the Cabinet Member for the Environment, Cllr Lesley Whybrow (Green). This means it will take our Council 99,094 years to plant 4 million trees to reach just 13% of woodland covering.

  • Now our council declared a climate and ecological emergency in July 2019. Now they wish to plant a maximum of 40 trees a year  which really doesn’t seem like they are treating it like an “emergency” at all.

  • We and perhaps you would NOT call our council a Green exemplar council

Hythe Town Council (HTC), which is a Green led coalition, state on their Climate Change webpage:

  • The best carbon capture device is… a tree. We are planting lots of trees in Hythe… The target was to plant over 1,000 trees and we have already exceeded this.

As Tesco’s say “every little helps” but a thousand or more when we need 4 million is not even a drop in the ocean. But applause for the effort should be given.

HTCs planting should increase habitat for birds and insects,  which should increase biodiversity; which is a primary way to sustain healthy ecosystems and the services they provide, which we depend on for health, well-being and development.

Folkestone Town Council, a Labour led council, states on its climate change webpage:

The council is trying to reduce its carbon footprint by:

  • Planting trees

  • Using 100% renewable energy

  • Using LED lighting

It does not tell us how many trees it has planted, or what species of tree, it just offers a bland statement which is utterly meaningless.

It is though good that these two council have a dedicated climate change page.  We note neither New Romney Town Council or Lydd Town Council have a dedicated climate change webpage, even though both town councils are in an area more prone to climate change events and will no doubt disappear before the other 45% of the district.

So what’s the solution? Well of course plant more trees, but trees can’t be planted anywhere as the Green Cllrs have found out to their cost.

There is undeniably a need to create more woodland, and for reasons that go beyond the storage of carbon; but the job should be tackled in a spirit that encourages good land management practice, not as a race to cover the land with woodland.

Trees are multifunctional: along with carbon storage, they provide timber, fuel, food, fodder, game, shelter, screening, amenity, biodiversity, and water retention. Creating a woodland requires identifying the best site, the best species and the best management regime for the purposes in mind.

Woodland should be established in sensible places — on bracken-strewn banks, poor land, wet land, north facing slopes, or as shelterbelts, and only rarely on decent arable or meadow land. We should if possible plant the most productive fast-growing species, such as poplar or Douglas fir, as they are the species that sequestrate the most carbon. We should also plant indigenous species such as Querius Robur Oak, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Pussy Willow, Hazel, Rowan, Holly, Crab Apple, Silver Birch, for example, to allow biodiversity to flourish. And trees need to be looked after: you don’t just plant them, you grow them.

Quality not quantity is what is needed: good husbandry, not the willy-nilly broadcasting of trees on random hectares.  As we’ve said you don’t just plant trees, you grow them.

We all need to get involved if we are to stave of the ravages of climate change, which are now inevitable in our district, county and country.

The Shepway Vox Team

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2 Comments on The fig leaf which is hiding a climate emergency in our district

  1. I swear the Shepway Vox Team are more Green than the local Green Party who only ever seem to bang on about Princes Parade. Keep up the good work.

  2. Excellent article. Far too many councils (from parishes to counties) are making bland statements about the climate emergency. The time for action is now, and most councils need to seriously get their act together on this topic. The electorate is increasingly engaged on topics around climate change mitigation/adaptation, with tree planting probably being the top issue, so woe betide any politician that lags behind.

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