Cllr Marion Chapman-Allen represents the Guiltcross Ward at Breckland District Council, Norfolk.
I came into politics around a decade ago because I was concerned about the felling of trees and wanted to do something about it. A keen dog-walker, there’s nothing I love more than to take my grandchildren for adventures in the beautiful woods near to where I live in Norfolk.
So I’m proud to have recently been appointed one of the Woodland Trust’s Councillor Tree Champions. I’m also immensely proud to be a Conservative, because we’re committed to conserving and enhancing our natural environment so that this remains the most beautiful country in the world.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will recognise that as a quote from the manifesto. Indeed, you wouldn’t know it from the public debate and media reports, but our manifesto contained several very encouraging aspirations for those of us who care passionately about the natural environment.
For a start, it promised to extend the life of the Natural Capital Committee – the independent body chaired by Professor Dieter Helm to put a value on our country’s natural assets. The committee’s latest report found a “strong economic case” for the planting of 250,000 hectares of woodland near to towns and cities, which could reap “very substantial” societal net benefits in excess of £500 million a year.
The manifesto also promised to work with the Committee to develop a 25-year plan to restore the UK’s biodiversity, and pledged to plant 11 million new trees, to spend £3 billion of the CAP enhancing England’s countryside, and to keep public forests and woodland “in trust for the nation”. It talked about providing free maps of all open-access green space, new ‘pocket parks’ in towns and cities, locally-led garden cities, and protection for the Green Belt, AONBs, National Parks and SSSIs.
Perhaps most strikingly of all, our manifesto pledged to “build new infrastructure in an environmentally-sensitive way”. With the proposed HS2 route threatening to destroy or damage 83 precious and irreplaceable ancient woods, this promise could be well kept by looking to alter the route – such as by building a Chilterns tunnel.
Regrettably, the Queen’s Speech brought forward no measures to address how else these excellent manifesto pledges might be delivered. But David Cameron has been laudably clear that he wants to implement “all” of the manifesto in its entirety, as part of his mission to restore trust and faith in politics. This means that at some point over the next five years – hopefully sooner rather than later – we will have to take all of these bulls by the horns.
Because protecting and enhancing our natural environment are key conservative values that we should proudly own – not brush under the carpet. Especially when you consider that initiatives like tree-planting offer great value for money by delivering several outcomes at once – such as helping to reduce the risk of flooding while making neighbourhoods more attractive and improving air quality.
Indeed, there is a growing body of evidence to prove that nature, and woods and trees in particular, are of huge benefit to us all – aiding our health, our well-being and the economy – which means that making good on these promises can help us deliver on the most fundamental Conservative pledge of all: allowing everyone to enjoy ‘the Good Life’.