On 9 July 2019 Surrey County Council declared a climate emergency, and committed to work with partners to agree Surrey's collective response, which will include a strategy for becoming carbon neutral as early as possible. As part of this, the council has committed to facilitate the planting of 1.2 million trees – one for every Surrey resident – by 2030.
The county council needed to formulate a robust, evidence based strategy and action plan, working with partners and residents, to deliver the 1.2 million new trees, and ensure that they survive to maturity and deliver the intended benefits. This required consideration of how we will work with partners, identify land for planting, source trees, agree the right tree to plant, obtain funding and ensure appropriate aftercare and monitoring.
Our approach so far has included tree planting events, fundraising, publicity, and building relationships with partners and experts to assist in the delivery of these initiatives and the development of our strategy for 1.2 million new trees.
We planted the first tree on 5 October 2019, at Surrey Hills Wood Fair in Cranleigh, and donated 600 trees to families to take home and plant. Each year following this, an event will take place where we will plant a tree to celebrate our progress and publicise the number of trees we have planted up to that point.
In November, we held a tree planting event at Byfleet School during Tree Week in partnership with Woking Borough Council, attended by the Mayor of Woking, which involved planting 5 mature trees to act as a barrier to the M25.
In preparation for Christmas, we launched our first fundraising initiative 'Surrey's Trees for Christmas' in partnership with Surrey Wildlife Trust. We are encouraging residents to donate £3 when they buy their Christmas tree to pay for the cost of planting a new one in Surrey. This initiative is being supported by Squires Garden Centres (11 sites in Surrey) and another Christmas tree retailer, who have agreed to give a voucher to every customer with a link to our fundraising page to encourage a donation with their purchase.
We are developing A Tree Friendly Business initiative, which is a way of getting the business sector to support tree planting in the County with financial contributions. Participating businesses (including those that use a significant amount of wood or paper), will be able to donate an agreed amount in return for a mark of recognition (currently under development) and certificate, that demonstrates their contribution to the programme and provides reputational benefit to the business, supporting their social responsibility. Our role will involve coordinating the scheme and linking up different organisations that can provide funding, land and trees. We have had an encouraging response from businesses that are keen to pilot this.
We have actively promoted these initiatives, getting good coverage on the radio and local press, and lots of public support.
To further enable delivery of the programme, we have allocated budget for this in our Medium Term Financial Plan, and established a partnership with Surrey Wildlife Trust which enables us to receive donations for tree planting. We intend to allow residents to donate to this including as a legacy.
We have drafted a New Tree Strategy with support from a number of organisations. This strategy outlines how we will deliver our vision that ‘’by 2030 Surrey will benefit from 1.2 million new trees, with the right trees planted in the right place, including both urban and rural locations, and supported to grow to maturity.’’ “Right tree, right place” is one of the overarching principles of our strategy, which will set out how we decide on types of trees and planting locations, as well as considerations such as watering, maintenance and monitoring.
As the county council cannot deliver this ambition alone, working with partners including residents, boroughs, districts, parishes, businesses and other organisations will be crucial to ensure we have the land, funding and support available to deliver the programme.
Delivering the programme
Over the next few weeks we will carry out informal consultation of the draft strategy with partners and stakeholders, with a view to launching the strategy at the start of March 2020.
We will work with officers and partners to identify suitable areas of land where appropriate (right tree, right place) high volume woodland planting can occur, and contact landowners with land that abuts major highways (i.e. M3, M25) to request permission to plant trees on the perimeter of their land. We will also explore an opportunity to work with a sustainable wood fuel supply company to achieve a high volume tree planting initiative, and develop a mechanism for monitoring the number of trees we are planting and where.
We will continue to work with businesses to develop the Tree Friendly Business initiative, and promote the initiative at the Sustainable Business event at Surrey University on 4 February.
We also plan to work with the Surrey Wildlife Trust to develop further fundraising initiatives.
These activities will lead up to Surrey Tree Week, to take place early March. We have chosen this time of year to fit with tree planting season, and going forwards we will focus activity around National Tree Week that takes place annually in November.
Surrey Tree Week will involve a number high profile tree planting events. A tree will be planted by each MP in their constituency, along with the relevant borough Mayor. The events will be arranged to include local schools, residents, businesses and hospitals, to ensure the community are involved. Locations for tree planting will include rural, urban (particularly areas of high pollution), flood plains, schools etc. to reflect the diversity of trees and their benefits.
During Surrey Tree Week we will work with our residents and communities to plant a substantial number of trees, in line with the “right tree right place” principle referenced in our vision. We will source free trees for this purpose. Partnership working is essential to this and we are building relationships with organisations that have expertise in tree planting and that can provide input including potential funding.
During this week we will launch our New Tree Strategy and our Tree Friendly Business initiative.
The impact of the programme will be realised over a number of years, with the first batch of trees to be planted by March 2020, and the remaining trees to be planted over the ten years to 2030, and with benefits increasing as the trees mature. As trees are one of the most effective ways of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, this will play an important part in supporting Surrey’s ambition to become carbon neutral, alongside essential activity to reduce emissions.
Trees also have a major role in reducing the impacts of climate change, including providing shade, cooling urban heat islands, and reducing flooding. This highlights the importance of ensuring the right trees are chosen, planted in the right places, and supported to grow to maturity.
Further benefits include supporting wildlife and biodiversity, the role of trees in improving air quality, educational benefits, the aesthetic value of trees, and benefits to mental health.
So far the programme has generated positive publicity for Surrey County Council, with a high level of support from partners and residents.
Early engagement with partners and stakeholders has been essential in ensuring support for the strategy and programme.
Trees are an emotive topic and it has been important to understand the concerns of partners in ensuring sensitive planting and avoiding an approach that could cause damage to valuable open habitats such as Surrey’s lowland heath and chalk downlands, which are rich in wildlife and an important carbon sink in their own right.
We also needed to ensure our strategy for planting new trees was consistent with the need to preserve and effectively manage our existing trees, and we have identified the need for additional work in this area.
Our Climate Change and New Tree Strategies have now been endorsed by Cabinet and can be accessed on our website where you can also find executive summary documents.
Contact: Katie Sargent, Environment Commissioning Group Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org