A debate has opened over where millions of trees should be planted in the north of England following politicians’ manifesto pledges to cover swathes of the region in foliage.
Ahead of last week’s general election Labour stated it would oversee the planting of two billion trees by 2040, and the Conservative Party pledged an additional 75,000 acres of trees a year would be planted by the end of the next Parliament.
A full meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority heard while there was widespread support for tree planting, there were concerns too many trees could ruin the expansive vistas which were the main reason the area was designated an area of national landscape importance in 1954.
Authority member Richard Foster, who is also leader of Craven District Council, said the amount of trees being suggested could seriously impact on the park’s historic landscapes of drystone walls, former lead mines and stone field barns.
He said: “One of the main reasons this national park was designated was for its wide open landscapes and panoramic views. I do think we need to be very very careful, whilst there are certain areas that can easily be planted without causing any problem whatsoever.”
Members heard while the Forestry Commission has the primary responsibility for woodland schemes, a new Dales woodland strategy was being developed to help control planting, proposing acceptable levels of woodland creation and what the forests would need to take into account.
Leading members said even with the strategy they questioned whether the authority would have much choice on levels of planting and suggested the government would issue planting “instructions”.
Ian McPherson, the authority’s natural environment champion, added developing the strategy was “not totally straightforward as whatever you do some pleases some diversity aspects of our policy and others don’t”.
He said: “For example we want to get away from the rather traditional Forestry Commission planting of conifers in straight lines and squares on the side of the fells, but the reality is quite a number of those are perfect homes for red squirrels and willow tits. If you do away with those then you may lose the red squirrel population.”
The authority’s conservation director Gary Smith said he foresaw “a significant debate about the level of woodland planting in places like this national park in the context of those climate change targets that the government has set”.
He said: “Those trees have to go somewhere. Historically, there is a tendency to see landscapes as perfect as they are right this second. I would certainly say there is quite a lot of scope for more woodland than we have now.”
The authority’s chief executive David Butterworth added while the Yorkshire Dales has the lowest woodland cover of any national park in the UK, the speed of tree planting in the park was among the highest in the UK.
He said: “I think we are at the stage where for every ten trees that is planted in England one of them is planted in the Dales. It either suggests the country is not planting many trees or we are doing quite well in relation to planting.”
Mr Butterworth added: “With the new government we will all be watching very closely to see what happens with the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill because they are absolutely critical to the wellbeing of national parks and rural areas generally.”