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Why UK Trees?

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From curlew to corncrake, from voles to toads there’s lots of restoration that needs to be done. So why are we starting with trees?

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It’s Train Hugger’s mission to restore the British countryside. From curlew to corncrake, from voles to toads there’s lots of restoration that needs to be done. So why are we starting with trees?

Train Hugger believes in well-managed woodlands. ‘Well-managed’ means landowners plant climate resilient trees in the right place. The trees are pruned and thinned through their lifetime. Over many human generations a forest of multiple tree species is created that will be a rich carbon sink, full of biodiversity and a local resource for valuable timber. This last bit is important, partly because we currently import 80% of our wood (95% of our hardwood) from around the world, but also because timber is valuable. At today’s prices a mature hardwood (about a hundred years old) is worth as much as £2,000. Well-managed woodlands bring skilled jobs and investment, which in the world we live in, is an important part of ensuring that the forest is protected.

Here are some of the common questions that we get asked. We turned to the brilliant Jen Turner, Development Manager at the Royal Forestry Society, and our CEO Ed Caldecott to give you the best answers.

1. If you’re planting all these millions of trees aren’t you going to run out of land?

Jen: Just 13% of the UK has forest cover. That’s compared to 37% in Europe. That 13% breaks down as 19% in Scotland, 15% in Wales, 10% in England, and 9% in Northern Ireland - so we’re way behind where we’d like to be in terms of forest cover.

A well-managed forest is constantly renewing itself; once a mature tree is chopped down a new tree is planted. So new trees are always needed.

Ed: From the perspective of the Train Hugger grant, there is currently no funding for restocking after a storm. Annually storms in the UK bring down 10 million trees. Many of these trees are valuable and the damage represents a huge loss to the forest owners. Train Hugger is the only grant that funds replanting after a storm.

2. Planting trees can actually be bad for biodiversity? How do you know you’re planting them in the right place?

Jen: The Royal Forestry Society and the Royal Scottish Forestry Society have about 3,500 members across the UK. All members are invited to apply to the grant. Members have to say what trees they plan to plant, where they plan to plant them and what their management process will be. The applications are evaluated by an RFS forester who then recommends successful applications to Train Hugger. One of the RFS’s goals is to prepare our forests for climate change. This means we need landowners of all shapes and sizes to think about planting climate resilient trees; trees that thrived yesterday might not do so well tomorrow. When we review an application this is at the forefront of our thinking.

3. Are you offsetting my journey?

Ed: The trees Train Hugger plants are not in any way offsets. Train Hugger are funding the planting trees for all the complex reasons explained by Jen. We’re not planting them for offsets. We don’t want to be part of the carbon market, or spend time measuring how much carbon a tree might sequester in forty years. We just want to restore the countryside. Each tree planted will help combat climate change but we’re not pretending it will offset anything.

4. Who looks after the trees after they’ve been planted?

Jen: When the landowner submits their application for the Train Hugger grant they have to submit a tree management plan. The long term management of the new wood is absolutely essential to creating trees that will one day be valuable.

5. A tree costs about twenty quid, how can you possibly plant a tree with a train booking?

Jen: A sapling costs £20. A whip, which is a few inches long, bought in bulk costs about 50p. The Train Hugger grant funds the whip. The landowner has to fund the tree guard, the labour and the ongoing management.

6. There’s more important work that needs to be done and trees grow faster at the Equator? Why don’t you just plant them there?

Ed: It’s true. A mangrove tree can sequester about as much carbon in seven years as a UK hardwood can in forty. If carbon was our goal then yes we’d do that and then would come the management. Checking a tree we’d planted in Gabon went into the ground and checking again in three years time that it is still there is more onerous than checking the oak we planted in Lincolnshire. The reason why that checking is important is we need our customers to trust us, and much about overseas tree planting seems untrustworthy. Unfortunately, there are environmental problems everywhere. We’re tackling the ones close to home where we know we can help.

These are the trees the Train Hugger grant funds. We do not fund the planting of mono-cultures and only fund limited planting of sitka spruce (any sitka spruce planting must be less than 25% of the trees planted).

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