If you’ve been out in the woods recently, I don’t need to tell you that they’re a health tonic. Whether it’s the trees on the Stray, the Nidd Valley, the Pinewoods or at Fountains Abbey, the spring green of new foliage is always uplifting.
But trees do more than inspire us. They are the lungs of the planet, taking in and storing carbon dioxide, and breathing out oxygen.
This has never been more important to us. There is mainstream scientific consensus and wide public acceptance that climate breakdown from global warming gases is not a hypothetical threat. It is happening now. We have seen our seasons in Yorkshire changing and becoming less predictable – and weather events becoming more extreme. To avoid climate catastrophe, the world is transitioning to a low carbon economy.
In the Harrogate district, for example, there has been investment in a new electric bus station and in micro generation, with many homes generating their own electricity with solar panels. But moving away from fossil fuels is not enough by itself. Earth’s atmosphere already contains too much excess carbon to avoid continued and accelerating climate change.
So what else needs to be done to ensure Yorkshire thrives? To spare it from the damage of extreme weather events and the loss of biodiversity?
Firstly, we need to capture carbon. Carbon capture is a catch-all term for many ways of removing carbon from the atmosphere, or preventing it from entering the atmosphere in the first place. Trees have a major role to play here. They lock in carbon as they grow and – as they can live for a long time – they can have a positive effect on the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
Secondly, we a need to mitigate the effects of climate that will occur, and here too, trees, woodlands and forests will help. Woodlands absorb pollutants, improve air quality and reduce the chance of flooding by slowing the flow of water.
Meanwhile, green spaces like domestic gardens, parks and woodlands provide a multitude of amenity benefits to people, and support biodiversity by providing vital habitats for wildlife.
However, over centuries Britain’s woodland cover has decreased to about 13% – one third of the European average. In Yorkshire, that figure is lower still. There are plans afoot to address this. The Government’s 25-year Clean Growth Strategy and the Northern Forest initiative mean that large scale investment in increasing woodland cover is coming. The Northern Forest is an ambitious plan, announced this year, that aims to see over 50 million trees planted over a 25-year period, stretching from Liverpool to Hull.
Our region’s contribution is called the ‘White Rose Forest’, and the Harrogate district is located at the heart of the initiative.