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Every tree matters in London: embracing natural solutions in the fight against climate change

In this seventh blog in the series about the 'A More Natural Capital' environmental manifesto for the next Mayor of London, Jenny Scholfield, Regional Director for South East England at the Woodland Trust, highlights the opportunity to harness London's trees and green spaces in the fight against climate change.

April 2021

The elections for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly are focussing minds on the capital’s major challenges. While COVID has dominated the past year, the threats from the climate and nature emergencies have not gone away, and action to tackle them is needed now more than ever.

Trees are one of our most powerful allies in the fight, naturally absorbing CO2. Urban trees strengthen our resilience in the face of climate change impacts, providing shelter and shade, reducing flood risk, and cooling urban heat. By providing and connecting habitats for wildlife, screening us from pollution, and boosting mental health, trees and woodland are good for people and nature too. The Woodland Trust and allies are already working with the London Urban Forest Partnership to protect and enhance existing woodland and bring more trees into the capital. We are also a part of the More Natural Capital coalition of environmental organisations that has put together a joint environmental plan of action for the next Mayor of London.

The new London Plan has the target to increase tree canopy cover in London by 10 per cent by 2050. That is a good start but given the urgency of the climate crisis, we need to go further and faster. Our manifesto calls for a doubling that target, committing to an increase in London’s canopy cover of at least 20 per cent by 2050, through a mix of natural regeneration and sensitive planting, with the right trees in the right place.

London’s Green Belt offers huge potential for the large scale woodland creation we are calling for, to capture carbon while providing access to nature for millions of Londoners. The Woodland Trust has made a start, working with the GLA to extend Hainault Forest, with new planting to extend this ancient woodland.

We want to see the next Mayor change grey to green across London, using planning powers to deliver more trees on development sites and integrating existing trees and green spaces early on in the design and planning process. London has seen too many valuable trees lost to development, including the Happy Man Tree, England’s Tree of the Year 2020. We’re asking the next Mayor to use GLA-backed schemes to demonstrate protection of London’s green infrastructure, not its destruction.

Leafy streets should no longer be a synonym for affluence: we want every Londoner to enjoy the benefits of trees where they live, as part of a green and blue network of urban hedgerows, meadows and waterways. Our manifesto asks for 100 new street tree schemes across London, and the resourcing to maintain them.

The Lawton principles are that we want to see more, better and better-connected areas for nature. By working with allies in the More Natural Capital coalition, we can make the connections between policy areas too.

The homes for future generations of Londoners are being planned and designed now. These should be built to zero carbon standards, and existing homes made more energy efficient, addressing not only the climate crisis but also fuel poverty. With our allies, we’re asking the next Mayor to ensure all new homes are built to zero carbon standards by 2023 and fund an ambitious programme to retrofit and sensitively adapt existing housing stock. Designing around existing trees can help, providing natural shading and integrating buildings with their surroundings from the start.

By requiring de-paving as part of major developments, and promoting sustainable drainage and urban cooling measures, including rain gardens, for all new development, the Mayor can improve the capital’s climate resilience and provide natural flood relief.

COVID has shown us all the value of green space, and a chance to rethink how we use the public realm for people and nature. We’re asking the next Mayor to seize this opportunity.

Jenny Scholfield is the Regional Director for South East England at the Woodland Trust.

Follow @WoodlandTrust and @AMoreNaturalCap.

To read all the blogs in this series that explores the issues in the 'A More Natural Capital' manifesto, click here or visit our dedicated twitter feed @AMoreNaturalCap. You can also learn more about the leading candidates' stance on environmental issues at the Mayoral Environmental Debate on Monday 12 April.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.