JOIN THE TREE REVOLUTION
This November marks the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest which restored the rights of free tenants to access and use the Royal Forests. Matt Larsen-Daw, Project Lead for the Woodland Trust, describes the significance of the original charter as well as the movement to commemorate and reaffirm a commitment to its principles.
Nowadays, the Charter of the Forest may seem fairly irrelevant to most people. Dealing with practices such as ‘pannage’ (knocking acorns from oak trees for pigs) and ‘estover’ (collecting wood) it feels a world away from modern life. The issues that the historic charter sought to address, however, remain familiar.
The Charter of the Forest was intended to tackle an insidious trend, whereby the Plantagenet rulers increased the Royal Forests by declaring more and more land to be ‘afforested’ and, therefore, subject to draconian forest law. As a result, many people in England were unable to access the natural benefits of a landscape they previously took for granted.
800 years on and the role of trees in our lives may have changed, but protecting them is more important than ever. Instead of permission to gather acorns communities seek clean air, leafy streets and the opportunity to access and manage local woods.
Evidence shows the positive effects of trees on our mental health and wellbeing. Moreover they are vital elements of the landscapes that we value and which support the wildlife we love. However, our trees and woodlands are under threat. Street trees are being removed from cities and towns. Ancient woods are often at risk from housing and infrastructure development.
As the rate of loss becomes visible even to people whose lives are far removed from conservation, forestry or planning, the scent of revolution is in the air.
Recognising the crisis facing the UK’s trees and woods, more than 70 organisations representing diverse sectors and communities have come together to define a new Charter for Trees, Woods and People to address the issues of our time.
Even more importantly, around 200 local groups have joined the Tree Charter campaign to stand up for the trees and woods most important to them. These ‘Charter Branches’ include Sheffield campaigners who are literally standing with healthy street trees to prevent them from being felled by contractors as part of council highway maintenance work; Southwark residents objecting to the clear-felling of woods on burial grounds to allow re-use of plots; Forest School groups seeking to ensure children don’t miss out on the formative experiences of freely exploring woodland; and even landowners and community woodland groups concerned by low planting rates and the lack of government action on tree disease.
Across the country, people are standing up against local and national policies that are causing the trees and woods that improve their lives to disappear from the landscape. This grassroots army is living proof of a growing concern about the future of the UK’s trees and woods, and a willingness to take direct action to safeguard it.
The Charter is underpinned by a number of themes and principles which can be found here https://treecharter.uk/tree-charter-principles/. With its emphasis on woodland social enterprise, the Making Local Woods Work project is especially supportive of the Charter’s commitment to a thriving sector supporting forestry-related livelihoods. Simon Lloyd, Chief Executive of the Royal Forestry Society which leads development of this theme, reiterates that “We want forestry in the UK to be more visible, understood and supported so that it can achieve its huge potential and provide jobs, forest products, environmental benefits and economic opportunities for all. Careers in woodland management, arboriculture and the timber supply chain should be attractive choices and provide development opportunities for individuals, communities and businesses”.
Several of our MLWW projects and partners are Charter Branches including Eden Rose Coppice Trust in Suffolk, Vert Woods Community Woodlands in East Sussex and Pembroke 21C in Wales. Visit the Tree Charter website if you would like to register your own group as a Charter Branch. MLWW would also like to host our own Tree Charter event later in the year – do get in touch if you would like to be involved.
Sign the Tree Charter and help shape a future in which people and trees stand stronger together TreeCharter.uk/sign.