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West Midlands Natural Environment Plan: 2021 - 2026

Trees and Hedgerow Planting

Trees and hedgerows play an important part in the natural environment, as long as the ‘right tree, right place’ principle is followed. They offer a range of benefits for climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as biodiversity net gain. They bring multiple co-benefits for people’s physical and mental health, especially in urban areas. There is already significant work happening in all sectors across the West Midlands with local authorities, environmental NGOs and regional businesses making commitments and planting trees.

Currently, forest cover in the WMCA is about 1.5% of the area; agriculture 20% and urban/built up areas 70%, of which 57% comprises less built up areas, technically referred to as ‘discontinuous urban fabric’. The best opportunity for tree planting is on agricultural land of poorer quality and which will be repurposed with an associated shift in payments through the Environmental Land Management Scheme. The commitment made, through the Five Year Plan, is for 5.7 million additional trees by 2026 and 19 million by 2041 to support the regional net zero goals.

Ensuring that tree and hedgerow planting is well conceived, carried out and maintained is an important part of ensuring that carbon sequestration and other benefits can be realised – this therefore presents an opportunity to create jobs and encourage community ownership and stewardship.

We also recognise the importance of targeting tree planting, the benefits (ecosystem services) that can be maximised through this approach and the potential damaging impacts tree planting can have for both amenity and biodiversity if evidence is not followed. Any planting carried out, or sponsored by WMCA, will use native trees and trees which are UK and Ireland sourced and grown, wherever possible, to try to avoid introduction of new tree diseases from abroad.

In addition to planting new woodland, this plan also recognises the importance of protection for any areas of ancient woodland and any ancient, veteran or notable trees, as well as restoration of any ancient woodland that has been degraded through clearance and replanting with conifers. Protection and care of mature trees across the region is important for retaining biodiversity value, canopy cover and landscape quality, as well as to enhance air quality.

WMCA-led flagship programme
Virtual Forest: encouraging tree-planting

The West Midlands Virtual Forest website was launched in January 2020 as a tool for recording and promoting tree planting in alignment with the WM2041 ambitions to plant 19 million trees by 2041. The project works on a philosophy of ‘crowd planting’ and we will work in collaboration with a number of partner organisations such as local tree planting groups, local authorities, national charities (such as The Woodland Trust and Trees for Cities) and other groups with large scale tree planting initiatives. The site will also seek to link up trees, land and people able to assist with planting, as well as providing support on how to plant trees and how to get further involved with the initiative.

We are keen to continue to work with partner organisations to publicise activity, and the importance of tree planting, to enable people from across the West Midlands to get involved in some way this year. We are also seeking collaboration with stakeholders who are already planning on planting trees on private land to engage with the platform to help us reach our target. As part of this initiative, we would like to:

  • Develop an annual plan/ targets for tree and hedgerow planting, to be delivered with partners through the Virtual Forest.

  • Through the expansion of the Virtual Forest platform, explore ways we can replant historical forests like Shakespeare’s Forest of Arden

  • Bring major regional landowners together in a ‘tree planting summit’ to promote collaboration and bring forward land for trees and other biodiversity projects.

Priority Actions

Support the Urban Forest Masterplan initiated in Birmingham and explore the potential to create a regional urban forest strategy.

  • Support initiatives from partners that align with our outcomes, for example the Commonwealth Games Legacy Forest by Severn Trent Water
  • Run a ‘right tree, right place’ campaign, for example, where trees work well as part of the climate adaptation solution to urban heat.
  • Work with the Woodland Trust and other tree-planting groups to explore setting up a West Midlands Tree Nursery of British native species where residents with gardens or land where they wish to plant a tree can collect or purchase discounted saplings, potentially working with garden centres in the region.
  • Explore incorporating tree-lined streets into the finished design for every West Midlands transport scheme which involves redesigning streets and is funded by the Combined Authority.

Case Studies

The aim is to create a forest or a number of forests (using only native trees, UK sourced and grown, in keeping with the local landscape), to celebrate the year of the Games and leave a lasting legacy for both our communities and the environment in the West Midlands. There will be a 2022 acre forest as well as 72 tiny forests, aimed at improving and enhancing the biodiversity of the region, with the potential to incorporate some existing forest/woodland areas that can be adopted into the wider landscape and brought into a coherent management strategy. They will follow watercourses and provide nature corridors across and through the area, wrapping around existing urban areas, providing a “green hug” and providing air quality improvements.

As well as the environmental benefits, the Commonwealth Games Forest will leave a lasting legacy for communities across the West Midlands by bringing a place for people to experience nature and be together without everyday life distractions.

The project will embrace ‘social prescribing’, such as a forest workshop that could support community mental health and well-being. There is also the potential to provide jobs and skills through the creation and maintenance of the forest with others, as well as through the visitor-related activity.

The 72 tiny forests will each be linked to one of the nations competing in the Commonwealth Games. Severn Trent Water are working with Earthwatch to deliver this programme, which will link to communities through schools’ programmes and other community outreach initiatives.

Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council’s Arden Free Tree Scheme is being run in partnership with Birmingham Airport to plant traditional native tree species as part of their carbon management plan. The aim is to enhance and protect the Arden landscape character of the borough, creating a strong sense of place and local distinctiveness. During the 20/21 winter this scheme supported 30 individual tree planting projects across Solihull and the wider Arden landscape with a total of 6,431 native trees and shrubs planted to create hedgerows and small woodlands. This initiative will have the added benefit of being planned to protect and enhance Solihull’s strong rural character and those features characteristic of the wider Warwickshire Arden landscape.