Plant that tree, but make sure it’s the right tree in the right place

Tree planting is fast becoming a national mania as research shows that trees are a key ally in our efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

Planting without due care and attention won’t get us far though. It is all about planting the right tree in the right place for the right reasons. This was a mantra repeated often by speakers at a tree planting seminar held recently by Teignbridge District Council and the Woodland Trust for councillors and community groups.

Dominic Scanlon of Aspect Tree Consultancy illustrated the “right tree in the right place” point by mention of an oak tree someone unknown has planted between two semi-mature trees in Forde Park in Newton Abbot. “It looked like the right place but over the long term we will end up with three poor specimen trees” because there isn’t enough space for all of them, he said. You have to think in terms of decades when planting trees.

Trees in Stover Country Park

TDC commissioned a study last year of the trees it owns. Trees have been considered a burden in the past because of the costs of maintenance, Mr Scanlon said, but they can also be viewed as an asset for their role in carbon capture and storage, and protection from storm water run-off. When considered from that perspective, the benefits far outstrip the costs. 

This is the value attributed to TDC’s tree population, as measured using iTree, which calculates the economic worth of trees based on the ecosystem services they provide :

  • The replacement cost of the trees is £16m.
  • They store more than 5,000 tonnes of carbon worth £1.3m.
  • They bring £20,000 of benefit in pollution capture and water run-off capture.
  • They have a public asset value of £144m.

The study also showed Teignbridge has a diverse population of trees with the most common species being oak, ash, sycamore and birch. In terms of pollution capture and carbon storage, the oak is the most important species, followed by beech, ash and sycamore. This is because they are the older, larger trees that confer the most benefits on the ecosystem. 

Of course, ash trees are under threat from dieback, caused by a fungus. The disease is expected to kill nearly all of them (94%). Infected trees become brittle and liable to drop branches, which makes them a risk, particularly in public spaces or where they overhang roads. TDC owns 3,800 ash trees and has only removed four to date, but has been planting to replace the trees that will be lost and has almost replaced the full 3,800 already. 

Councils need to develop a plan to deal with ash trees they own, said Mr Scanlon. He recommended the Ash Dieback Action Plan Toolkit available from the Tree Council

Private landowners may also need to take action. Bob Stevenson, tree officer for Devon County Council, said the council estimates there are 448,000 ash trees within falling distance of roads across the county, most of which are on private land.

For 2020, TDC plans to plant a further 1,500 native trees provided by the Woodland Trust on three sites (Sandringham Park Newton Abbot, Michaels Field, Bishopsteignton, Dawlish Leisure Centre, Sandy Lane, Dawlish), plus 15 fruit trees in a community orchard in Bishopsteignton. The aim is to plant adjacent to existing woodland to help create corridors for wildlife.

Heather Elgar of the Woodland Trust said the UK currently has 13% tree cover (10% in England, 15% in Wales, 19% in Scotland and 8% in Northern Ireland), which is significantly lower than for European countries. The Committee on Climate Change, which gives independent advice to the UK government, recommends aiming for tree coverage of 19%. The Trust supports this and considers how to do it in its recently published Emergency Tree Plan for the UK.

Graham Burton, also of the Woodland Trust, took up the theme of right tree, right place but cautioned that it isn’t easy to adhere to that principle. It is about creating a community of trees, a woodland assembly, not just a collection of trees, he said, pointing out there are 24 types of woodland.

The Trust has a preference for natural regeneration over planting but recognises it is not always possible. The drawback to planting is that guards are required and these are often plastic. Biodegradable options are under investigation.

The Trust’s ambitions are to work at landscape scale. For example, it aims to reforest 2% of Cornwall and double canopy cover in Bristol. There is capacity in UK nurseries to produce 100m UK sourced and grown trees, said Mr Burton; the hurdle is finding enough land to plant on. “80% of the UK is farmland, so unless farmers are supported to plant trees under the natural capital banner, it will be really hard to get enough trees planted.”

Teignbridge has a lot of smaller woodlands, he added, and we need to find ways of joining them up. He also gave brief details of the funding and help available for medium scale planting (between 0.5 and 3 hectares) and the free trees available to schools and communities.

Steve Edmunds of the Forestry Commission also gave details of the funding streams for woodland creation and management that local authorities and other landowners can access. These include Countryside Stewardship, targeted at biodiversity and water management, the Woodland Creation Planning Grant, mainly targeted at productive woodlands, and the Woodland Carbon Code, which helps landowners obtain top-up funding for carbon offsetting for businesses.

Then came the reality check. ACT’s Audrey Compton said planting trees is necessary but not sufficient. “Even if we planted every square metre of Teignbridge with trees we still couldn’t make our lives carbon neutral,” she said. 

The annual average carbon footprint in the UK is 13 tonnes, including imported goods. We each need four mature trees to offset that footprint. And as long as we keep using soya and palm oil, planting trees won’t help much. Both crops are often planted on land cleared of rainforest. Soya is widely used in animal feed, making it important to avoid buying imported beef and intensively reared meat. Palm oil is used in many food products and toiletries, although labelling doesn’t always make that clear.

Audrey also spoke of the power of hedges to connect nature and reduce flooding. She showed how the hedges in her steep fields grow along contour lines, and said there is evidence there were more hedges in the past. This approach to planting slows down water run-off and soil erosion. 

“We need to work with the Environment Agency and local farmers to put hedges in the right places, but these are projects that Parish Councils and local Climate Action Groups can help with,” said Audrey. She highlighted how volunteers this month planted 6,000 trees, including 3,500 as hedgerows, in Ide and Shillingford, two parishes in Teignbridge.

Finally, there was welcome news from Cllr Jackie Hook, portfolio holder for climate change on TDC, who said the council will extend its climate emergency declaration to an ecological one too. 

Increasing tree coverage is an essential element in any plan to deal with both of those emergencies, provided we put the right trees in the right place. 

Further reading:

Exeter based Treeconomics has done reports on the ecosystem service value of the tree populations in Exeter, Exmouth and Torbay. The Torbay report finds the area’s estimated 818,000 trees store 98,100 tons of carbon and sequester a further 4,279 tons each year.  They also remove 50 tons of pollutants from the atmosphere each year, a service with an estimated value of £281,000, while the structural value of the trees has been calculated at a remarkable £280m.

Heathfield Power Station application unanimously rejected by Teignbridge planning committee

This morning Teignbridge District Council unanimously rejected application 19/01342/FUL for a gas fired power plant at Heathfield.

First ACT’s Fuad Al-Tawil spoke against the application:

“The council’s unanimous and brave decision to declare a Climate Emergency inspired a huge number of us to act together to help the council fulfil their pledge of Net Zero Emissions for Teignbridge by 2025.

Please give us, and the country, a lead to show that you are serious about doing this.”

“Despite all our efforts we find that the updated report has actually embellished the misinformed evidence from the first report.  Some of this ‘evidence’ gives half the story, some skews the facts and quite a few are simply inaccurate.  This pseudo-evidence is then used to justify the development as being needed and complying with the CCC statements, the NPPF and LP policies.”

“If this is plant is intended to meet ‘peaking’ electricity demands as implied by the developer, it should only operate at the times indicated by WPD’s most recent tender for peaking plant in this area.  This equates to ~5% of the time, yet the applicant intends to operate it for ~50% of the time with no limits to stop that going to 80-90%.”

“Even worse, the declared operating period directly blocks additional renewable generation whether local or elsewhere.”

Here is the full text of Fuad’s speech, which regrettably was cut short by the bell.

Fuad was followed by Ben Wallace for the applicant. Mr. Wallace recited paragraph 3.3.1 of NPP EN-1 as justification for the application: “As a result, the more renewable generating capacity we have the more generation capacity we will require overall, to provide back-up at times when the availability of intermittent renewable sources is low. If fossil fuel plant remains the most cost-effective means of providing such back-up, particularly at short notice, it is possible that even when the UK’s electricity supply is almost entirely decarbonised we may still need fossil fuel power stations for short periods when renewable output is too low to meet demand, for example when there is little wind.

Cllr Sally Morgan, ward councillor for Bovey ward, then spoke passionately about the impact on the Bovey environment, followed by Cllr Avril Kerwell, also a councillor for Bovey ward, who echoed Cllr Morgan’s sentiments. These were followed by a succession of councillors speaking against, including Cllr Nutley, Cllr Keeling and Cllr Wrigley, who cited Dinorwig as a long established example of storage and urged us to write to government to get things changed. Several members spoke of the need to use existing green alternatives.

Cllr Jackie Hook then spoke, emphasising that this was not a council proposal but from a private company. She pointed out the factual inaccuracies in the applicant’s statement and stated that the application was clearly counter to policies S7 and EN3. She noted that para 3.3.1, which the applicant relied on, was written in 2011 and states that electricity can’t be stored, this policy only states that there might be a need for fossil fuelled plant. This need has not been proven. Cllr Hook also spoke of the need for planning officers to consider both sides of the argument. Cllr Clarence spoke about water power as a long established resource that we are not using.

The motion was then put to a recorded vote, where all the committee voted unanimously to reject the application.

Some points that emerged from the discussion were:

  • That the applicant’s web site guarantees 20 years income to site owners for this type of site.
  • Such a plant running for about 50% of the time would deny cleaner alternatives access to the grid.
  • That the need for this and similar application needs to be proven, and this has not been done.

The factual arguments put by ACT and other like minded  organisations have today won the argument.

A fuller account is now available on Devon Live.

Stop the Heathfield Power Plant

Following Teignbridge District Council’s declaration of a climate emergency in April 2019, in July application 19/01342/FUL was received by Teignbridge District Council for a 2.5MW gas-fired peaking power plant at Heathfield. This application has received over 300 objections.

As a result of these Bovey ward Councillor Sally Morgan has called in the decision, so that it would be decided by the full planning committee. The planning officer has now recommended approval to the planning committee, which will meet at 10am 18th February 2020 at Forde House in Newton Abbot.

We will be there at 9.30 and will have a speaker against the application.

A Climate Emergency means that we must not add more fossil fuel burning plant to our electricity network. Teignbridge’s existing local plan has a policy S7, which states that CO2 emissions must be reduced by 48% on 2009 levels by 2033. The applicant claims that this plant supports renewable generation (which it does not), and contains several serious factual inaccuracies including that in 2018 52% of electricity generation was from renewables, where 33.3% came from renewables and 19.5% from nuclear.

The planning officer’s report states that the determination that the application was compliant with policy S7 was “finely balanced”, so had the correct statistics been used it is reasonable to assume that the balance might have swung the other way.

Teign Energy Communities (TECs) has done a detailed analysis of statements in the applicant’s planning statement and the planning officer’s report: http://teignenergycommunities.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/TECs-Heathfield-Power-Station-S7-Analysis-v1.0.pdf

Audrey Compton has written to the members of the planning committee:

Dear Cllr
I am extremely concerned about the application for a Gas Power Station at Heathfield and hope very much that you will be voting against it.
Thousands of us were so encouraged when TDC decided to aim for the District to be carbon neutral by 2025. The all-party agreement on this was also very heartening – having a planning officer recommend passing an application for a fossil-fuel powered generating station is not heartening. To achieve the Councils unanimous ambition means that we all need to reduce our electricity use, not continue as before.

The application asks that the station should be allowed to be used 46% of the time in order to fill gaps in renewable power, this will NOT help us become carbon neutral by 2025.
All it will do is encourage everyone to carry on as usual; which means letting down all of our young people and condemming them to an immeasurably worse life than our own!
Added to the very significant CO2 emissions from this generator are the Nitrous oxide emissions – which are very dangerous to health and will be close to a popular walking and cycle path.
How can TDC measure the impact/contribution this plant will make to the overall Teignbridge Carbon emissions (S7) without this number. An estimate based on 46% operation is quite significant at around 0.25% of total Teignbridge emissions! And what are the expected CO2e emissions per kWh electricity generated? TDC needs to look at the development of storage for renewable energy to smooth out energy supplies, if it truly wishes to decarbonise.

I am one of the four who started ACTion on Climate in Teignbridge last year – we now have around 250 members as well as 250 people who belong to our Facebook page.
Over 50 of us are very active in all of the different areas that we cover: the Built Environment, Energy, Ecology, Food, Farming and Forestry, Transport, Public Engagement and Procurement.
We will be at Forde House to observe the Planning Committee on the 18th – and hope that we can once again celebrate the outstanding leadership of our Councillors.

with best wishes for the future,
Audrey Compton

Applications for similar gas-fired plant at Ivybridge (South Hams 3354/19/FUL ) and Woodbury (East Devon 19/0591/MFUL) have already been refused permission partly on the grounds of climate emergency.

Subjectivity and Climate Change

In her 2016 PhD thesis, Gillian Westcott examined the part played by subjective attitudes to climate change in determining the policy and actions of local authorities in South West England.

The research used interviews with officers and members of seven local authorities in the area, conducted during the years 2010 to 2013. While much has changed since then, the views expressed could well be relevant to today’s community energy workers and others who engage with local authorities on climate change issues. Read more here.

What you can learn from Energy Performance Certificates

All domestic and commercial buildings in the UK available to rent or buy must have an Energy Performance Certificate. The Certificate provides details on the energy efficiency of a building, gives it a rating from A (very efficient) to G (inefficient), and tells you what you can do to improve that rating. It is valid for 10 years.
ACT has analysed certificates since 2008

An EPC lets the person who will use the building know how costly it will be to heat and light, and what its carbon dioxide emissions are likely to be.

In the Teignbridge area EPCs have been issued for more than 37,000 of around 54,000 dwellings. Nearly two-thirds of these (62% or 23,137) are rated D or worse, with just 58 rated A. Only 27 dwellings have zero or negative carbon emissions, but of those, 10 are new estate houses built by Redrow in Kingsteignton. This shows it can be done so why aren’t all new build estate houses zero carbon? Most have a B or C rating.

Total emissions from dwellings rated D or below currently amount to 127kt of CO2, against 31kt for the higher rated ones.

The top recommendations in Teignbridge EPCs for improving energy efficiency are to install: solar panels (29,642 certificates), solar hot water heating (26,591), low energy light bulbs (24,075), a new condensing boiler (11,994). There are also various insulation recommendations.

If all the suggested improvements were carried out, only 5,949 dwellings  (16%) would be rated D or worse and emissions per dwelling would drop by nearly half, from 4.23 tonnes to 2.37 tonnes. But those low rated dwellings would still account for around a third of CO2 emissions.

EPC data is a useful starting point for Parish and Town councils that have declared a climate emergency. It will help to set carbon targets and implement initiatives designed to reduce emissions.  For more details, and maps showing current and potential CO2 emissions by parish, please visit https://actionclimateteignbridge.org/index.php/energy-performance-certificates-epcs/