• The battle to protect trees and nature: My talk to the Sidmouth branch of the National Trust

    21st January 2015 | News | Claire
  • I should declare an interest I am a member of the NT and have been for many years. Excellent organisation, demonstrates a deep commitment to environmentalism. Octavia Hill was truly ahead of her time and we owe her a debt of gratitude.

    Trees subject very close to my heart but not an expert on trees. I just love them and want to protect them.

    It is in this context that I am speaking because as a councillor who deals with planning matters, one of my biggest frustrations, and also which makes me really angry, is when developers callously fell important (but unprotected) trees to make way for development.

    You might ask why I do care so much about trees and nature.
    I have been a nature lover all my life. Was fortunate enough to have parents who valued the natural world highly enough to frequently take my sister and I out and about in the countryside, locally in East Devon – and on Dartmoor.

    I am sure one of the reasons why I am still as passionate today about the countryside and wildlife now, as I was when I was eight!

    Believe it is vital that human beings do have a connection to nature.

    Research has showed that when people have a positive connection to the living world they tend to be happier, less stressful and more optimistic, than those of us who aren’t.

    Trees are an integral part of our history and our psyche and I don’t think I am alone when I talk about how walking through woodland can be a spiritual experience.

    Even in the depths of winter, when everything seems dormant, there is an active peace in woodland.

    A sort of presence that you can’t define, but is there nonetheless.

    For me, walking in local woods is the absolute best way for me to de-stress and I always return to my desk with a sense of perspective and somehow a sense of my place in the world.

    STAT – UK has lowest cover of woodland of any country in Europe with only around 13 per cent, compared with around average of around 40 per cent of wooded areas in Europe.

    Trees, especially, oaks, support a myriad of wildlife, a whole eco system lives on a single oak tree. So imagine how much life a woodland supports. Insects that pollinate our crops and provide our food.

    We sacrifice our natural world on the alter of economic growth at our own peril.

    WE need the natural world in order to survive!

    Benefits of trees
    – Home for wildlife – supports a huge number of insects, birds and animals. Need more joined together woodland and green corridors, so wildlife can move more easily between fragmented areas.

    – Support the environment – purify the air, absorbing Co2, pumping out oxygen, removing pollutants. Tree roots help water travel deep into the soil, stabilize river banks and help prevent flooding.

    – Keep cities cooler in summer, with shading and reducing radiation to a factor 10 suncream.

    – Education and play – great way for children to connect. So important to encourage children’s interest in wildlife.

    Unfortunately, especially with the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) many developers simply cram as many houses in as possible and aim to get rid of most green space to maximise profits.

    Trees – even ancient ones – are often considered a nuisance – and are felled ahead of any planning application being submitted.

    What developers do if they are worried their chainsaw action will be thwarted, is to ringbark the trees, which kills them. And then chainsaw them down at leisure.

    Explain two tree felling incidents in West Hill –

    We exploit trees mercilessly. To cut down a mature oak and replace it with a sapling is, in my view, a rather pathetic attempt at assuaging our guilt.

    The rules SHOULD be that if one mature tree is cut down, six should be planted in its place, or they should be of a certain height.

    Name and shame developers on blog only option due to lack of enthusiasm about creating new TPOs.

    After this that I was asked by the Woodland Trust to become their Devon Tree Champion, which is absolutely wonderful and makes me feel really proud!

    i have had many discussions with EDDC tree officer for more TPOs.

    Background – Motion on providing greater tree protection and more penalties for developers – lodged October 2013, it was instead decided TAFF to be set up.

    Unfortunately, this took more than a YEAR! And the first meeting, which was held last month came to a premature end.

    Half the committee didn’t turn up, leaving three of us including the chairman, who resigned after one hour because we argued about the scope of the work!

    I wanted to be able to include the Local Plan in the list of reference documents which the chairman refused.

    He also refused any suggestion of the possibility of providing recommendations to central govt on increased tree protection policy.

    Really disappointing, leaves short space of time to achieve very much. EDDC political meetings close down in March due to elections.

    Next meeting on Monday (26 Jan) , 9.30am – hopefully we will be able to push things forward fast and achieve something.

    Document fought tooth and nail by the National Trust and Campaign to Protect Rural England, among other environmental groups.

    I met our MP about it. Unfortunately, not much changed and of course we are paying the price in East Devon today for its pro-development policies. Primary aim is to boost economy.

    Tree protection reduced … Woodland Trust and other charities have managed to get improvements in NPPF for protection of ancient woodland and veteran trees, but for other trees and woodland the protection is much poorer.

    BUT unfortunately Growth and Infrastructure Bill – if goes through can override those protections if there is a big project that is deemed to be of national importance – such as HS2. If goes ahead, sadly will destroy vast tracts of ancient woodland.

    But don’t worry say ministers we can do some bio-diversity off-setting! Moving the wooded and/or wildlife-rich area somewhere else.

    How on earth is this even possible? Ancient woodland is IRREPLACEABLE.

    Anyone heard of the State of Nature report? Was published in spring 2013.

    Reported that the UK’s nature is in serious danger:
    – Of more than 6000 species assessed more than one in 10 are thought to be under threat of extinction in the UK.
    – A further 885 are listed as threatened.
    – Specifically – 72 per cent of butterflies decreased in last 10 years
    – 97 per cent of wildflower meadows disappeared.

    Biggest area threatened flowering plants – which has a result on the entire eco-system, with massive losses of insects and those small animals that eat insects.

    Not all bad news, some species such as some birds and bats are returning, thanks to conservation efforts, but the general picture is extremely worrying.


    Page 11 gives us the answer – human activity. We are having a profound impact on the UK’s nature.

    It is habitat loss through development, changed farming methods, loss of hedgerow, loss of woods and trees and wildflower meadows.

    The good news is that woodlands are slowly increasing, however, woods and trees really under pressure from disease, thought to be caused by climate change, and imported diseases, weakening trees immune systems.

    DCC motion on planting more trees – last year
    More trees being planted on farmland, which is DCC’s biggest bank of land.

    Woodland Trust aims to plant more woods and individual trees.

    Led to project of mine – DCC budget cuts, grass growing long on verges, people don’t like it…. so sow them with wildflowers instead.

    Not as easy as it sounds. Health and safety considerations, highways considerations, objections, wildflower seeding not working quite as well as hoped…..

    Two failed, one has kept going…..

    Family of beavers living on Otter for around 8-10 years. Possibly two families. Living quietly DEFRA got to hear of them, hinted that they might cull them….

    Insisted capture for EM disease, highly unlikely to have it and even if did likelihood of humans catching it totally remote.

    Beavers native species, extinct in UK about 500 years ago, killed for their fur.

    Localized tree nibbling, but overwhelmingly positive for river catchment as a whole. Water purification, prevention of flooding, really good for encouraging more bio-diversity to rivers.

    Overwhelming positive overall effect.

    Testing would mean capture and transfer to a location remote from Devon for testing. Operation to test for EM – parasite lives in gut, really remote chance of beavers having EM.

    Devon Wildlife Trust consultation event and application to NE for licence for beavers to remain on river.

    Friends of Earth legal challenge to DEFRA. Maybe species protected under EU legislation.

    DEFRA appears to relent slightly. Natural England hold consultation event on what local people think of beavers remaining – 14 Jan. DEFRA set to make rapid decision on beavers fate, maybe by end of this month.

    You are probably all doing good works and are keen to encourage wildlife anyway, but if you do want to help with increasing the numbers of insects, grow wildflowers!

    Let your gardens grow naturally, or at least have a wild area, have a few stinging nettles, have a pond without fish. Let nature in.

    If candidates want your vote, ask them what they propose to do for trees and the environment!

    Plant trees – Woodland Trust Free tree packs – apply!

    “We should act to save nature for both its intrinsic value and for the benefits it brings to us that are essential to our well-being and prosperity.”
    State of Nature report – 2013

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
    Margaret Mead.

    Photograph with thanks to Terry Ife and Archant Newspapers:  Left to right. Me with Keith Orrell and Ian Heard of the Sidmouth branch of the National Trust.