Seeing the wood and the trees

The national media has been giving significant coverage to the antics of Extinction Rebellion in their protests. I share many of their objectives in raising the climate change issues but am less than impressed by some of their tactics which are losing them public sympathy.

Over the last five years, the local media has devoted many broadcast hours and column inches to a couple of hundred highways’ trees on a few roads in south-west Sheffield. When these activists turned up on streets in my constituency, they were sent packing by local residents.

Overwhelmingly, local people tell me that they like trees, they want more of them, they want appropriate trees, they want them to be pruned so that they do not restrict all the light to their homes and, when tree roots damage the pavements so they become impassable or dangerous for wheelchairs and prams and pedestrians, they want action taken to sort it out. I agree.

Given the nature of some contributions to the local tree debate, you wouldn’t know that Sheffield had added more trees generally, and more highways trees specifically, in each and every year sine the second world war. And the same is true for Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.

But, even if more trees were added in South Yorkshire at the same rate as has happened over the last 70 years, this may be insufficient to meet the current climate change challenges. Of course, nationally and internationally, there needs to be a wide range of actions if we are to reverse the heating of the planet. Some of the media might assist by halting the hot air being emitted from some prominent climate change deniers who, contrary to all the evidence, continue to behave like 21st century flat-earthers.

So, it should be no surprise that I am one of 120 northern MPs and council leaders – from all parties – to support the growth of the Northern Forest.  Last week, we wrote to the Prime Minister asking for his support and commitment to the project.

Currently, only 7.6% of the North of England is covered by woodland, considerably lower than the 10% national average.

The plan is to get 50 million trees planted over the next 25 years in the North of England by the Woodland Trust and their partners; more than 600,000 already in the ground. The forest will span 120 miles, from Liverpool in the west to Hull in the east, and from Lancaster in the north to Sheffield in the south.

This would establish 24k hectares of new woodland, which would absorb up to 7.5m tonnes of carbon each year. As well as reducing flooding, it will increase bio-diversity and develop new habitats. It will also create new jobs and enable new economic opportunities.

Let’s hope we can see the new woods and enjoy the new trees.

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