A Northumberland MP who has a senior position in a group dedicated to forestry is calling for 200 million trees to be planted to protect against floods.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, is vice-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Forestry, which met this week to discuss natural flood management.
But how can trees protect homes and businesses? And is there any chance of these ambitious plans actually going ahead? We take a look at the potential solution to flooding.
What was discussed at the meeting?
MPs talked about the relationship between trees and flood prevention.
They heard about the science behind planting trees, particularly the ability of new woodland in the uplands to reduce the flow of water downstream.
Neil Parish MP, the chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, promised an inquiry into improving how tree-planting is planned and funded.
Mrs Trevelyan said: “We had a very constructive and positive meeting – lots of hard work has gone on across the sector to support practical plans to start managing flood risk areas via whole river catchment basins and the importance of forestry within those plans. The industry is pleased the Government has maintained a £1m fund for major new planning projects.”
How can tree-planting help prevent floods?
Trees are a vital part of flood management and slowing the flow of water in times of extreme rainfall.
Between 25-45% of rainwater is held up in a tree’s canopy, and its root system is as extensive as its canopy.
The more trees you have, the more water is absorbed and released slowly. Trees also hold on to topsoil and slow the rate of soil erosion in times of excessive water flows.
Mrs Trevelyan’s views are supported by experts including Nick Odoni, from the Department of Geography at Durham University.
He called for “millions” of trees to be planted across the North as part of a long-term strategy to protect against flooding.
Dr Odoni added that planting trees downstream is also important, as it can create a buffer that slows the rate that water leaves the river during floods.
Are there any economic benefits?
The UK is the world’s third largest importer of timber as only 12% of the country is woodland, compared to 28% in France.
A study commissioned by the Forestry Commission put the total value of UK woodlands, even excluding flood and water management benefits and health benefits, at £270bn.
Is the Government interested?
Mrs Trevelyan said: “I am very pleased the whole of Government is at last building a 25-year plan for flood management and thinking about how we substantially increase the number of trees planted over the course of this parliament and the next.
“I will continue to call for 200 million new trees over 50,000 hectares as the level to which government should be aspiring.”
In response to a question from the MP for Berwick in the House of Commons last December, Environment Secretary Liz Truss said: “I completely agree with her about looking at the environment on a catchment level and making sure that we put in place tree-planting programmes that can both reduce flood risk and improve the environment at the same time.”
Are there any downsides?
Experts stress that tree-planting projects must be planned carefully in order to be beneficial.
Large-scale reforestation will also need the consent of farmers, particularly those who use the uplands for sheep farming.