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Tackling climate change by planting trees
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  1. Keith Powell

Abstract

The UK needs to step up its tree-planting efforts to make a dent on climate change. Here, Keith Powell suggests that vets could bring clients together to provide the money and land for such projects.

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Keith Powell works at Barefoot Vets, based in the Welsh borders

Amidst all the depressing news about climate change and loss of biodiversity, there is one gleaming ray of hope that could help us – the humble tree.

Tom Crowther, the chief scientific adviser to the UN on climate change, and his team have shown that we can plant our way out of climate change, without it impacting food-producing land. Their work shows that two-thirds of all carbon emitted since the industrial revolution can be stored in trees and give nature a home too.1,2

Some countries are acting on this research and have already made great progress. Pakistan has planted a billion trees, and last year Ethiopia planted 350 million trees – in a day. The Great Green Wall, an 8000 km-long tree barrier south of the Sahara, will also soon become a modern wonder of the world.

But here in the UK we are failing to plant significant numbers of trees. According to the government’s official advisers on climate change, we need another 1.5 billion trees in the UK to make a dent on climate change. But, at current planting rates, it will take England and Wales over 100 years to plant what Ethiopia did in a day, although Scotland is doing better.

Why are we doing so badly? There are two obstacles – money and space.

The current funding model for major planting schemes is that the government provides grants to people to plant and care for trees. For example, there’s the Welsh government’s ‘Glastir Woodland Creation’ scheme, which aims to get trees in the ground and ensure local seed provenance. Grants compensate farmers for their efforts and ensure trees can be protected until they become established (for the first 12 years of their lives).

Using this scheme, I successfully applied for a grant for the Bryn Arw Common project – a project that will see 175,000 native, broadleaf trees planted on Bryn Arw Common in the Black Mountains, Monmouthshire. This is a very carefully designed project, ensuring the right trees go in the right place to maximise carbon sequestration, biodiversity gains, flood mitigation and amenity value. This project has gained such interest and has led to many calls from committees of other commons asking for help.

However, the Glastir scheme is oversubscribed 10 fold – there is just not enough money in the government pot. So, we need to take responsibility ourselves to mitigate climate change.

To address this funding shortfall, we made the Bryn Arw Common tree plant a pilot for a much bigger project – to plant 1 million trees in the Brecon Beacons National Park in winter 2022 using locally raised funds.

The model proposed for this project – based on the Glastir scheme – will see the farmer receive £1.80 to procure a tree, cane and guard, prepare and fence the land, and plant the tree. They will then receive £0.164 per tree per year to look after them for the 12 years, which is crucial to the project’s success. I also proposed that an additional £0.70 per tree is needed to run the project and inspect the trees annually for 12 years, giving a total of nearly £4.50 per tree. I ran the model past the landowners – the National Farmers’ Union of England and Wales, the Woodland Trust and Coed Cymru – who all gave it the thumbs up.

To raise the money needed I have teamed up with a local author, Robert Penn, to launch a charity (Stump Up for Trees).3 Within two hours of launching it we received £60,000 in support and we continue to be inundated with donations from many people and organisations who want to get involved. This response has highlighted that there are lots of landowners who want to plant trees but lack money and lots of people frustrated that they can’t do something meaningful to tackle climate change because they have no land.

What’s to stop a small animal practice in Luton raising money to plant trees on a farm in Yorkshire?

So this got me thinking about another 1 million tree project. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if the veterinary profession could facilitate bringing these two groups of people together and become the first profession to plant 1 million trees to tackle climate change? Our profession is packed with highly talented and caring people. Together, we could raise money and then use this to pay our farming/landowner clients to plant and care for more trees. We have a unique position; large animal vets have great relationships with their farmers, while small animal practices have vast numbers of clients to call on for fundraising. What’s to stop a small animal practice in Luton raising money to plant trees on a farm in Yorkshire?

Everyone is concerned about the climate change emergency, and doing something with your clients will be great for the client-vet relationship at both ends of the scheme. We could use social media to promote the activities so that everyone could follow the project’s progress. Such a project would be great for practice morale, corporate governance, client relations and loyalty, and you’ll just feel better knowing you’re helping to tackle climate change.

For this to work we would need to raise the money required to plant and look after trees for the 12 years and hold this in a central place before distributing it to our landowning clients. Perhaps an organisation like the BVA could take on this central role?

If you are interested in joining such a scheme, then please email me at keith@barefootvets.co.uk. If enough of you respond, we can make it happen. We really might be the last generation who can make a difference. ●

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