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Stop planting more trees!

December 23, 2020

By Paul Homewood


h/t ianprsy


This is an excellent essay by farmer and nature writer, John Lewis-Stempel:



I like trees. Sometimes I come over all Prince Charlesy and talk to ours, even pat their trunks. I have managed woods, written books praising trees, and I practise a bit of “agroforestry”, the farming system which combines trees with grass for grazing by Ermintrude, Shaun the Sheep, and Little Red Hen. But tree-planting in the UK is now a destructive mania. We need a moratorium on trees.


Full article here.

  1. Gerry, England permalink
    December 23, 2020 10:24 am

    Excellent article and I am a Royal Forestry Society member. There is a saying Right Tree, Right Place that I learnt as a recent soils training course and that is to try to correct past mistakes in a rush to plant trees postwar where the mix was not right. In some soils trees just won’t grow and so grassland is a good alternative. He also talks about management of trees to get the best wildlife result – foresters are already in short supply – or you get dark empty forests with no life at all. Which means we lose all the farmland wildlife and replace them with nothing. Even small changes can make a big difference to wildlife as I have seen with a field normally grown for haylage now being grazed by horses. Long grass hides voles and mice and so is ideal hunting ground for barn owls and since the grazing horses arrived the barn owl has not been seen. However, little owls are doing fine as they actually walk on the ground to gather insects and so need shorter grass.

    • Colin MacDonald permalink
      December 23, 2020 11:14 am

      You seem to be generalising from forestry plantations with trees planted 2m apart, a monoculture for sure and one I’ve seen plenty of in the Scottish Highlands. Even planted a few hundred hectares myself! However I wouldn’t say ALL forests are like this, and certainly not the unmanaged forests I grew up with by Loch Ness, there’s far more diversity in these woods in sheep runs.
      In any case it’s all a bit moot whether we plant trees or not, there’s no money in sheep, pastures are reverting to nature and trees are taking over.

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        December 23, 2020 10:21 pm

        Ironic, depopulation of the Highlands in part caused by the fact sheep were more profitable than people, apart from when the recruiting sargeants came looking for cannon fodder. Now sheep are being replaced by trees.

  2. Nordisch geo-climber permalink
    December 23, 2020 10:42 am

    Let me give an example of what happens on the ground in my area.
    This is a National Park, established in 1953 in Northern England.
    Why – because it was beautiful in 1953 (and since the time of Wordsworth, Canon Rawnsley, National trust, Coleridge, Southey, De Quincy, the Pink Floyd of their generation etc if you know what I mean).
    Why beautiful? Because farmers had looked after it for over 1000 years and kept sheep on the fells.
    Nordic, Viking country.
    There were open views and vistas, short grass, plenty of wildflowers, no bracken, there were forests but they were in rough areas unsuitable for sheep movement or very wet, and away from settlements.

    We know from Brazil, West Africa and elsewhere that biofuel and ethanol projects are exceedingly damaging in environmental terms.

    So now in the Lake District, we have imported these malevolent practices, the taxpayer is subsiding farmers to plant willow. This grows fast, quickly removes all views, vistas from roadside and hillside viewpoints. The willow is harvested as a cash crop for pellets. These go to Iggesund in Workington, part of Holmen group. They get subsidy for using them and generating electricity from pellets as does Drax Power plc. They are as far removed from “carbon neutral” or “renewable” imaginable, just work out how they are planted, maintained, harvested, transported, same applies to commercial softwood forestry used for pellets, big trucks round here constantly – cutting forests, straight to Iggesund.

    These willow plantations are justified on environmental grounds (climate change act 2008) but they are destroying the character of the very area where they are planted.

    Equally, trees, justified by the same act of parliament, are being planted everywhere – in completely inappropriate places, near to settlements, near to roads, beside rivers. When the rivers flood (regularly), the trees get carried down with all the other debris and demolish or dam up bridges making matters much worse. The trees are gradually removing all the famous Lake District views from roads, villages and hills.

    In this climate, particularly in winter, light is life, the sun is life, shade is a curse, a cold curse, so these trees in the wrong places are destroying the harmonious landscape that existed for generations, destroying light, warmth, creating only darkness.

    Bracken has spread like a cancer across the whole area, smothering all indigenous grasses and wildflowers, removing light and cooling the soil. This is due to neglect by the National park Authority. They say planting trees suppresses the bracken – not so, makes no difference. Trees like turbines attract taxpayer subsidy. For Holmen group, for farmers. So a wholly beautiful area is being ravaged and destroyed by CCA 2008.

    We are constantly fighting this madness and a barrister in my village is now fighting an 80 acre plantation that suddenly appeared beside a Roman road just a half mile from my village, one of the most spectacular views in the Lake District – a view that will disappear in 10 years.

    • December 23, 2020 11:19 am

      It is a similar problem everywhere. Where I am, the soil and weather are only suitable for growing grass, hence farmers for generations have reared sheep and cattle and maintained the landscape with banks, hedges and a few trees on steep ground. Now, due to CCA 2008, heavily subsidised anaerobic digesters are springing up, and to feed their voracious appetite, many farmers have taken to mono-culture of maize and given up on producing food. Maize cultivation destroys wildlife, leads to soil compaction when it is harvested in autumn, and the bare soil over winter results in erosion and run-off. Rivers are full of silt which is not good for fish. Lanes are hedges/banks are destroyed by use of massive, diesel powered tractors and HGVs. There is no money to repair the lanes, so they become full of pot-holes and are eventually unusable and so are permanently closed.

      Like all government policies, nobody thinks about what the result will be and the law of unintended consequences reigns supreme.

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        December 23, 2020 10:22 pm

        Growing of maize for biofuel is Europe wide now.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        December 24, 2020 11:34 am

        Funnily enough there was a person on my soils course from the West Country and asked about blue clay. ‘Good luck with growing trees in that’ was the answer.

        Fast growing willow has been put forward as cattle food in the past but to grow that for wood burning you can add eucalyptus. Chatsworth Estate drew plenty of criticism for setting an area to grow it to feed their boilers. I have one and can attest to its rapid growth as in 4 years my stump has grown two shoots that large enough to provide some smaller logs. The idea of growing your own firewood is also done on the Goodwood Estate where all of their sweet chestnut goes for heating.

  3. Devoncamel permalink
    December 23, 2020 11:05 am

    If policy continues to be driven by duff political ideology we will end up paying dearly. The environmental groupthink consensus, driven by climate alarmism, will prove to be a disaster.
    Everyone is getting carried away without thinking things through. We should applaud John Lewis-Stempel for his thoughtful, well informed insight.

  4. JBW permalink
    December 23, 2020 11:06 am

    Trees – love them or hate them depending on your point of view. I collect very old post cards for areas where my family used to live as part of my family history research.
    What is so striking is how few tress there are compared to now, where today, it’s impossible to see the same view of any large building such as a church.

    • LeedsChris permalink
      December 23, 2020 5:19 pm

      Agreed. I belong to our local Facebook page that publishes lots of old photographs of our part of West Yorkshire. It is absolutely clear that the number and size of trees has increased significantly since 1900. My house lies in a wooded valley that in Victorian times had quarries on either side – these are now woodland! And the local railway line now has huge trees on its embankments, whereas a photo from 1910 shows it to be treeless….

  5. Broadlands permalink
    December 23, 2020 1:15 pm

    The basic problem with new forests of trees? They die or are destroyed by fire. Naturally recycled by the oxygen they created. They are not permanent storage.

    The ancillary problems are (1) they compete with agricultural land. (2) they compete with biofuel sources of ethanol. (3) they compete with solar panel and wind turbine “farms”. (4) they can’t lower atmospheric CO2 very much without the help of industrial capture-and-store technology. (5) they require energy to plant and maintain that renewables don’t provide.

    • jack broughton permalink
      December 23, 2020 2:52 pm

      If we all grew trees near the coast, then chopped them down and shipped them straight to the arctic they would be in “eternal storage”, or until we all fry in a few million years time. Fortunately, as trees float, they could be floated there with a few wood-powered steam engines to help: non-problems all solved!

  6. Martin permalink
    December 23, 2020 3:45 pm

    The whole fashion for ‘rewilding’ is largely nonsense. Without management woodlands or other areas become overgrown with invasive species and unattractive to birdlife in particular. Also, without management apex predators take over, such as fox, badger, corvids, rats and mustelids (stoats and weasels). These devastate ground nesting birds and others – but the fans of rewilding won’t control them due to their Beatrix Potter view of wildlife.

    • JBW permalink
      December 23, 2020 8:16 pm

      Interesting comment. I recall going to a lecture at our local wildlife centre many years ago. I was impressed by the scientific knowledge of the speaker. He pointed out that the Badger was the only protected by act of parliament, which aimed to stop the cruel sport of badger baiting. As usual, the unintended consequences kick in, in that there are no natural predators of the Badger, therefore they have increased in numbers. They are large animals and by and large the amount of food consumed is proportional to their weight. Consequently, smaller mammals, who share the same food source, are denied access, with a decline in their numbers. Other species, like owls also suffer. That was his argument. What started out as a noble cause has ended up upsetting the natural balance.

      • Gerry, England permalink
        December 24, 2020 11:25 am

        Badgers also have a liking for hedgehogs – I wonder how their numbers have fared in recent years…..

  7. LeedsChris permalink
    December 23, 2020 5:25 pm

    Data from the Forestry Commission and published on the forest website shows some interesting historic woodland trends for the UK. For England it offers the following figures for percentage of the country covered by woodland:

    1086 (Domesday book) – approx 15%
    c.1350 – approx 10%
    17thC – approx 8%
    1905 – 5.2%
    1924 – 5.1%
    1947 – 5.8%
    1965 – 6.8%
    1980 – 7.3%
    1995/99 – 8.4%
    2017 – 10.0%.
    So why do we need more trees? These figures mean we already have 1.306 million hectares of woodland. The area has doubled since the 1920s and is now comparable with medieval times. In Wales the suggestion is that the area of woodland is now 4 times what it was in 1905 and in Scotland nearly 5 times.

    • Mack permalink
      December 23, 2020 10:44 pm

      In Scotland, the spruce planting ‘monoculture’ that sprang up in the post war years, and still continues, has proved devastating to native biota and diversity. Many valid points have been made by the previous posters. The bottom line is, that tree planting, with appropriate species, in the right areas and on the right soils, and under continual management, can enhance the environment for all the flora, fauna and wildlife that come into contact with it. Blanket carpeting new, densely packed forests with unsuitable trees in unsuitable areas will only lead to environmental catastrophe. From experience, it would seem that the people who scream most loudly about desiring a widespread reforesting of the land haven’t got the least clue about the impacts on native diversity and agriculture that would ensue should they achieve their aims. It’s not actually rocket science. Contrary to the media stereotypes, many of us on this side of the argument are passionate about the environment and are constantly keen to improve it, not destroy it.

  8. Ian Simpson permalink
    December 23, 2020 5:55 pm

    Interesting article, logical and informative as an example of a “Which Means That” follow up to the latest ecobabble fad policy drivel. I do take issue with JLS’s use of the Black Forest as an example of what not to do with a large tract of trees; if we had a terrain similar to Baden Wurttemberg/Saarland, we might have similar forests. Schwarzwald is 200+ km long and there are many many different areas – commercial forestry certainly, non commercialised areas definitely, vast areas – some fully protected and inaccessible on foot because of very steep slopes – through and over which you can walk/ski/cycle and equally vast areas that are a damn sight better protected than any forest we have been in in the UK. We have walked over a fair bit – northern and southern part – nordic skied around the Feldberg a lot and I have cycled over some of it – there are many areas still devoted to grazing and very often you can be up at a 1000 metres yomping through narrow tracks through the forest and suddenly you are in an alpine clearing with prime pasture for cows and the German equivalent of SSSI about which you are well informed by displays partly paid for by a tourist tax per diem. We have walked around Notschrei in the Summer of 2019 to find hidden valleys with incredibly steep hillsides and watched farmers cut pasture fields for sillage on 1:4 slopes ( reminiscent of Austrian mountain dairy farms )

    So JLS, in my humble opinion, you picked a poor example using the Black Forest.

    Trees are great in the right places – I recommend Peter Wohlleben’s book on the subject and also Colin Tudge’s.

  9. Dave Andrews permalink
    December 23, 2020 6:07 pm

    No doubt many of those who support these initiatives to plant trees were also in favour of the wind farms which resulted in the destruction of an estimated 14 million trees in Scotland

  10. Ian terry permalink
    December 23, 2020 9:08 pm

    Trees are no different from wind turbines, solar panels, bio mass boilers, bio digesters and electric cars all subsidized upto the hilt and the taxpayer picks up the tab.
    All in the name of the religion of saving the world which has taken over every form of the media. Biggest con trick ever…

    • Broadlands permalink
      December 24, 2020 1:07 am

      Ian Terry.. You nailed it! The whole climate change/global warming scam is a religion gone wild. Hopefully, our leaders will see it for what it is. But I doubt it…too much $$$$ to be made?

  11. December 24, 2020 4:30 pm

    Excellent article – eco warriors and XR take note

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