Major plan for tree planting in Central Bedfordshire

At its budget meeting on 20 February 2020, Central Bedfordshire Council agreed to set aside $1.68 million from additional New Homes Bonus funds to a specific reserve, in support of CBC’s upcoming climate change plan, for planting trees, hedges and similar cover across Central Bedfordshire.”

This was a real cross-party initiative, proposed by Caroline Maudlin, Conservative ward councillor for Sandy, Beeston and Blunham, and seconded by Victoria Harvey, Independent ward councillor for Linslade.

What is so encouraging about this particular project is that it has been so well prepared, taking so many aspects into account that are sometimes forgotten in the zeal to get new trees in the ground. For example, the proposers recognise that new planting must not displace existing valuable habitat, like established grasslands and hedges, or ancient woodland; the need for maintenance after planting has been recognised right from the start; and the proposal includes hedging and scrub – two very valuable habitats which are often overlooked.

The council will be consulting widely with all the interested parties and local expert organisations, including town and parish councils, the local Wildlife Trust, Forest of Marston Vale, Greensand Trust and others, and they will take the time to get this right, with the right trees, in the right place, with the right maintenance.

Speaking in support of the motion, Cllr Maudlin said, “The UK has now one of the lowest levels of woodland cover in Europe and also one of the most nature depleted countries in the world.

The government have been trying to improve this with grant schemes and CBC have benefited from … but simply – we are not planting enough trees.

The current level of canopy cover within Central Bedfordshire has been assessed as 14.5% – compared with an average of 17% England, varying from only 8% in Tithe Ward in Houghton Regis to 24% in Ampthill Ward.

The area of actual woodland cover is also variable, from around 17% across the Greensand Ridge, to 5-7% across the arable landscapes.

The Forest of Marston Vale has increased woodland cover within the project area from 3% to 9% – which has led to a noticeable change in the landscape.

Central Bedfordshire has three different types of landscape – the Greensand Ridge, Bedfordshire claylands; and the Chilterns – each with different types of landscape, ecology and soil, so it is essential that the right species of trees and plants are planted in the right area with the right ongoing maintenance to get the maximum return in all these areas, to increase not only carbon capture and storage, but also biodiversity and wildlife, while providing access to green space for people, and increasing wellbeing.

Woodland and tree canopy cover can be increased in a number of ways, including:

• farm woodland schemes, including agroforestry (where planting is widely spaced within arable cropping)

• larger scale mitigation of new development, both residential and employment

• wooded sustainable drainage corridors to increase wet woodland, an ecological priority

• planting for shade in towns, in school grounds

• hedgerow tree planting, particularly to combat losses from Ash Dieback disease

• tree and hedge planting to improve air quality

• and as an integrating major infrastructure []

The project is not as simple as just planting a few trees here and there – careful consideration has to be given as I mentioned to the right site, the right trees, and right reason AND then ensuring there is the ongoing hard work in keeping them watered and maintenance to get them truly established.

In all of this I have not even begun to talk about our wildlife and benefits it would bring to the decreasing numbers …

I don’t have a business plan, quotations, project plan or map showing planting locations and that is why I ask for the money to be put in a specific reserve. Passing this motion will enable our excellent in house Countryside officers, conservation team and ecologists with members, Town and Parish Councils putting this scheme together – we need to make sure we get the maximum return in locking carbon away in to the trees and soil, increasing biodiversity, public access, wellbeing and more.

Addressing the full council, Leader Cllr James Jamieson, underlined the importance of moving towards a zero carbon environment.“At a national and local level, we share a commitment to tackle the climate emergency and I’m keen to explore how we can do more to unlock resources for action in Central Bedfordshire” said Councillor Jamieson.“We are a council which is hugely ambitious to improve our environment and to build, great, sustainable communities. I’m optimistic about our ability to really make a difference, but delivery must be about more than tokenism.We need to work with our partners and our communities to effect practical and cultural change”.

The council’s budget, also approved last night, allocates £0.75m of revenue and up to £4m capital specifically on environmental sustainability projects.