Bringing trees back to the centre of people’s lives: The Charter for Trees

Campaign for National Parks is one of over 55 organisations signed up to help create the first Charter for Trees, Woods and People in 2017. Sarah Rouse from the Woodland Trust who are heading up the project explains a little more…

In 2010 the UK Government tried to sell off some of the Public Forest Estate in England. The public outcry that stopped those plans in its tracks revealed the connection people feel to the woods and trees of the UK, a connection that is rarely visible – and that’s why the idea of a Tree Charter was born.

In 1217 a Charter of the Forest was signed by Henry III to set down rights for people to access the sustainable benefits of the woods, trees and grazing lands of the Royal Forests in England. It provides a window to a period of history when trees and woods were integral to everyday life for firewood, building material and food. Our new Tree Charter will be launched on 6 November 2017 on the 800th anniversary of this influential document. The Tree Charter will address very different issues to the historic charter because our society and priorities have changed so much. However, there has been no comparable statement of rights and responsibilities for trees in the intervening 800 years, and we want to bring this discussion people back to the forefront of people's minds.

New Forest National Park © NFNPA

The Charter for Trees, Woods and People will join the dots between all the different areas of society that trees give benefits, so that it can recognise and protect the true value of trees to society. That means going beyond the Woodland Trust’s own priorities of protecting, planting and managing woods. We've reached out to other organisations from all areas of society to join to ensure that their concerns around woods and trees were reflected in the final charter. This includes commercial forestry, health, landscape, wildlife conservation and many more. We now have more than 55 organisations on board, speaking with one voice and calling out for society to rally around to stand up for trees.

To create this Tree Charter, we are collecting 100,000 ‘stories’ from people across the UK about what trees and woods mean to them.

In many of these stories people have written about National Parks and the importance of having treasured, ancient trees as well as beautiful-budding saplings within the Parks.

Standing alone in the middle of a vast field stood a broad and gnarly oak. It had the best view across the South Downs above Amberley and on the brow of Bury Hill. It was my mum's favourite tree. 'Look there he is, proud and strong,' she would say as we passed on our journey towards Petworth.  When people were unkind about my appearance at school mum would say, 'better to be a sturdy oak than a spindly sapling.'  One day a local paper published a photograph of 'our' lonesome tree and I framed a copy to give to mum as a birthday gift - she treasured it.

Wooded Exmoor © Jo Hall

The tree stories collected from the UK public, along with specific consultations with forestry and sector professionals, will enable us to get a clear idea of the value of trees and woods to the UK. They will form the basis for the partner organisations to write the content of the final Tree Charter. This document will not be legally binding, as that would make it too time-bound- we want a document like the Charter of the Forest, which can be used for the next 800 plus years!

On the wild, often barren, moorlands of Dartmoor, a tree is a rare and important landmark. They might be few in number, but each one that manages to pull itself up through the storms and grazing cattle shows their incredible determination.

We’ll use it as a document which can hold politicians, community groups and organisations to account, backed up by the body of evidence of 100,000 public stories. It will be the basis each year of a joint statement from the partner organisations, which will demonstrate whether or not the aims of the Charter have been achieved.

We need this Tree Charter because we want to demonstrate the value of trees and woods to UK society. In a world where trees and woods are ever-threatened by development, pests and diseases and many other factors, we need to start protecting our vitally important trees and woods.

To find out more about the campaign, or to add your voice to the Charter for Trees, Woods and People, please visit our website.