Herefordshire Tree Forum     

30th June 2016: Trees and Brexit - Here is the response from the Woodland Trust and the position statement from the Wildlife Trusts. Although the EU has some strong environmental regulations that have benefitted the UK environment, EU farm subsidies tend to reward farms with fewer trees and wildlife areas. This photograph shows trees being cleared on a hillside in Romania to make the land eligible for farm subsidies see here for an analysis from George Monbiot. Trees, woods, parks, wood-pasture, hedges, ponds and any wild places are ineligible for direct EU farm subsidies [see note below] so benefitting farms without them. Rural Payment Agency figures for Herefordshire (2013) show most of the £43 million a year in direct CAP payments go to a few large often fairly treeless farms. EU Structural Funds are not always kind to the environment, co-funding 'infrastucture' projects such as the Southern Link Road which is about to carve its way through the ancient woods, trees and hedges of what remains of the countryside south of Hereford. In this time of uncertainty perhaps organisations with rural interests can to come together and lobby for an integrated rural support system that benefits people and their environment while delivering health and good food – and more trees. [Note: EU agri-environment payments can fund some ecological management but they are small, voluntary, very bureaucratic and have to be funded 50% from EU member state treasuries anyway]

April 2016: Butterfly Conservation West Midlands have secured a grant for a three year project to conserve and the distribution of the rare and endangered Wood White in Herefordshire and Shropshire woods. This woodland butterfly has gone into steep decline in recent decades due both to lack of management of native woods and their conversion to conifer plantations. The project will be seeking opportunities, in FC and private woods, to improve the woodland habitat which requires sunlit open glades and rides or coppice coupes which provide nectar sources and the larval food plant Vetches and Bird's Foot Trefoil. Project details see here.

Issues for Herefordshire trees and woods in 2016: tree diseases e.g. Ash Die disease and Acute Oak Decline (see Forestry Commission web pages), restortation of damaged woodlands especially de-coniferization of ancient woods and historic parks community initatives in survey, protection and planting: a good start in 2015 with the parish tree warden scheme. Sustainable management of woods for production and adding value to wood and timber. Dealing with threats to woodland ecosystems from the burdgeoning deer and grey squirrel population. Upping the political profile of the benefits of woodlands and trees to the county. Increasing our knowledge of woods and trees, their history and ecology through survey, education and citizen science. Monitory impact of increasing climate instability on woods and trees.

August 2015. Chalara now confirmed in the wild in Herefordshire The characteristic signs of Chalara inflection have been reported by Mike Darley, Marden's tree warden. This has been confirmed by James Bisset, parks and countryside manager for the council who has also seen the typical signs: tip die back and curling brown leaves [see here for symptoms] along the A49 around Dinmore Hill. These sightings are also within the tetrads (2km x 2km squares) currently on the Forestry Commission's Chalara distribution map see here.

June 2015. The Ash die back fungal disease known as Chalara is advancing westwards and is likely to effect Herefordshire in the not too distant future. The latest advice from the Forestry Commission written for the West Midlands has just be published with details of the signs of infection, precautions and tree/woodland management options, click here. Since Ash makes up 10% of the regions 101,000 hectares of woodland Chalara is likely to have a major impact. These figures do not include the landscape and ecological impacts of the disease on field, hedgerow and parkland ash trees many of which are veteran trees of historical a well as ecological importance. So far Chalara has been only been found in tree nursery and new planting sites in Herefordshire and these were quickly destroyed but there already hotspots around Lancashire and up around Newcastle so its appearance in our county is inevitable. See also the FC Chalara web page here

June 2015. New nicely illustrated and information packed booklet about the Mortimer Forest its history, wildlife and future. The booklet can by downloaded as a pdf from here. At 945 hectares the Mortimer Forest is the large block of woodland managed by the Forestry Commission in Herefordshire. The forest design plans for Mortimer and other north Herefordshire FC woods (which combined total 2,300 hectares, see map here) are being drafting by FC at the present time which presents an enormous opportunity for wildlife, heritage and landscape heritage on publicly accessible land. These FC woods are either ancient woodlands, parkland or chase as well as growing on a variety soil types with some interesting geology too.

February 2015. What looked liked a serious threat to farmland trees (see below) due to a regulation on EU farm subsidy rules seems to have been averted, at least in England. Tree crown areas are required to be subtracted from area payments under the new Basic Payment Scheme of about £200/hectare to which all farmers are entitled because that area is not considered farming by the Agriculture Commission. Inquires to DEFRA by the Ancient Tree Forum have at last elicited a response to the effect that this regulation will not be applied in England unless the tree density is very high. The situation in Wales has yet to be clarified. The image to the left is from the National Tree Map LIDAR survey of the UK by Bluesky which plots the location and crown area of ever tree in the country, see here. This is a paid-for service but for free you can zoom in to your particular area to see your local trees and do a screen grab (PrtSc on key board) to capture a high resolution aerial image. Useful in both rural and urban areas - try it!

12th December. Serious threat to farmland trees has just arisen from the new EU farm subsidy rules that come into force in 2015. The area of crowns of trees extending more than 5 paces (5m) from the trunk is not "farmland" so no subsidy (about £200/ha) is payable. The area of all tree crowns must be subtracted from each field to determine subsidy. If this isn't an invitation to make trees "disappear" from farmland I don't what is. See current guidance here.

24th September: Restoration of the Croft Castle estate landscape has just started with the beginning of the removal of 20 hectares of the conifer stands between the Iron Age fort of Croft Ambrey and the chestnut avenue which also has the main concentration of veteran oaks. Once the conifers have been removed the area will be converted to wood pasture and parkland, mainly oak and sweet chestnut using early maps to guide the planting plan. This has been a long fought conversation battle see the full story here

Herefordshire Tree Week was Saturday 29th November to 7th December. Practical work - coppicing in Haugh Wood - There are still working parties organised for 2015, see events. The Tree Huggers Ball Saturday 6th December, fun was had by all, until next year.... ⇦Belmont 1800.

24th September: Restoration of the Croft Castle estate landscape has just started with the beginning of the removal of 20 hectares of the conifer stands between the Iron Age fort of Croft Ambrey and the chestnut avenue which also has the main concentration of veteran oaks. Once the conifers have been removed the area will be converted to wood pasture and parkland, mainly oak and sweet chestnut using early maps to guide the planting plan. This has been a long fought conversation battle see the full story here

6th August: A major revision and update of the Herefordshire Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI) has been completed. The existing AWI was based upon work done back in 1984 before digital methods of mapping and analysis. This revision includes for the first time the many 100's of small woods down to 0.25 hectares and below for which map evidence indicates have historical continuity sufficient to be classed as ancient woodland and is based upon the large scale tithe maps of 1840, the 1st edition 25" to mile OS maps of 1880 and the 1953 census of woods all of which have been digitised into a Geographic Information System (GIS). The revision also includes some removals of 'ancient' woods which failed to meet the ancientness criteria. The data was formally handed over to Herefordshire Council and the Biological Records Centre last week. This data should give extra protection for many previously unclassified small woods. Already three woods in Grafton in the line of the proposed southern bypass have gained the status of ancient woodland. See here for details including the report explaining the project, worked examples and the digital boundaries or all the revised ancient woodlands which can be downloaded onto any GIS for example the completely free and wonderful QGIS which anyone interested in digital mapping should learn how to use.

4th June: the Queen’s speech was notable for the weakening of protection for the natural environment. Of particular concern regarding trees and woods is the failure to mention the legislation we were promised setting up the new Public Forest Estate to manage the Forestry Commission woodlands in the public interest. Herefordshire has many large important FC woods such as Haugh, Frith, Mortimer (pictured here), Penyard Park, Sned etc. so the lack of any legislative framework ensuring their future management for environmental or social benefit is of grave concern. See the Woodland Trust press release here.

24th May and bank holiday at the height of the nesting season so an ideal time to start uprooting farmland trees and clearing woody vegetation as here at Norton Canon, a case which illustrates just how little protection there actually is for trees and woods outside urban conservation areas. The Forestry Commission who administer felling permissions would not be at their desks until the week after by which time evidence on the ground will have been bulldozed. In theory farmers can lose a small part of their annual subsidy check if they vandalise the countryside but in practice this almost never happens. Recent figures from the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) show just 3 cases in the whole UK where any subsidy was docked for tree felling and then it was only by 3%. See "GAEC 16" which concerns trees and woods.

3rd May. Planting apple trees in Nelson Street, part of the Hereford Greenway Project launched late 2013 featuring a new cycle and pedestrian bridge connecting the north of the city to Rotherwas industrial estate and beyond. The project has started creating landscaping improvements another its route with many new trees planted which will in time have a significantly beneficial effect of the appearance of the city. This has been a successful collaboration effort between local community, Herefordshire Council and Balfour Beatty's Community Engagement Programme, a model of the type of action which we hope to see repeated elsewhere. Details here.

21st March. New planting of native trees on conifer clear-fell area in the Forestry Commission Shobdon Hill Wood. Similarly in nearby FC Lingen Vallet Wood, see panoramic of the recent 8 hectare clear fell here. Since 1985 FC forestry policy has recognised ancient woodlands as irreplaceable but FC has continued re-coniferizing FC ancient woods in Herefordshire until very recently. This belated application of its own policy is most welcome and we look forward to the restoration of other FC woods in the county. The Forest Design Plans (FDPs) come up for renewal for the FC Mortimer Forest (May this year) and for the FC Wigmore Rolls 2015.

1st March. Beware of developers bearing trees! If you want to build a large ugly structure on a green field site in Herefordshire just include some tree planting. This new 700 square meter steel warehouse was refused in 2009 but recently approved [see 132174/F] by planning officer Mr. Carl Brace whose appraisal stated “…it is considered there is no detrimental landscape impact”. He justifies this absurd statement as a small area will be “planted with apple trees” but they only need to be “maintained for a period of 5 years”. This is what Biodiversity Offsetting [see below] is all about and combined with the new planning ethos of “presumption in favour of sustainable development” anything goes, including our countryside. Mr. Brace's precedent is a threat to the whole Herefordshire countryside. In the early 1980s tree sage Oliver Rackham warned us “tree planting is not synonymous with conservation, it is an admission that conservation has failed”.

5th February. Holding Back the Waters. A timely report launched today by the Woodland Trust calling on the Welsh Assembly and Government to establish trees and woods across Wales in areas identified to reduce flood risk downstream see here and press release here. The report points out that a relatively small amount spent on establishing woods, trees and wild areas potentially saves massive amounts having to be spend on flood defence in the future.

3rd February. The relationship between flooding, subsidised farming and trees has been brought into public discussion recently triggered by George Monbiot's seminal article on the subject. Check out the latest observations on the Woodland Trusts blog which is always well worth reading for its lively comments and reader feedback. For Herefordshire and the Marches the flooding behaviour of the Wye, Severn and Teme is greatly effected by the natural water absorbing ability of land - marshes, trees, woods, meanders etc. all of which have been much reduced by "modern" farming. However there are a number of interesting upland sustainable farming initiatives to restore these ecosystem services (including carbon storage), see the Pontbren project (mentioned in the blog) and also the Pumlumon Project in Montgomery.

January 26th. David Cameron was widely reported announcing whole scale scrapping of environmental regulations “...thousands of rules will be scrapped.. including 286 pages of the hedgerow regulations” see here and here. A junior minister Dan Rogerson has now (29th Jan) stated that the hedgerow regulations are not being scrapped saying that it was all a journalist's "misreporting". The fact that it was given universal credence in mainstream media for two days shows how mistrusted is the Government on environmental matters. We haven't seen the full list of environmental regulations to be scrapped and until we do we can't relax. As it happens the Farming Regulation Task Force recommended (page 86 Section 6.94) “Industry consultees did not raise the Hedgerow Regulations 1997 as a concern. We heard about the importance of the Regulations from several environmental groups. We recommend no change to the current Hedgerow Regulations”. Nonetheless the National Farmers Union has been lobbying hard for the removal of the hedgerow regulations for some time and clearly has the sympathetic ear of Government having scored a recent success in persuading Owen Paterson to cut agri-environment funds (see item below). Herefordshire hedges, hedgerow trees and potential hedgerow trees remain under threat even with the hedgerow regulations in place due to local authority staff cut backs and unsympathetic management. Here is what we stand to lose.

The Woodland Trust have recently produced leaflets on health and trees, free tree packs and woodland creation. See also associated links here and here. Native woodland is a unique and a highly complex assemblage of plants, animals, soil micro-organisms slowly developed over hundreds of years together with its history of human management. See here for a description of Herefordshire's woodland. The notion that native woodland can be created simply by a visit to the tree nursery with spade wielding volunteers is fallacious and allows Government to claim that it's OK destroy native woodland if trees are planted elsewhere. As the third leaflet illustrates trees are sometimes imposed upon existing habitats such as species-rich grassland, a rarer habitat than native woodland. Planted trees produce a plantation which is not the same as woodland and urban treescapes are different again so context and definition needs to be clear.

January 4th 2014. Biodiversity offsetting now threatens ancient woodlands: demonstrating a shocking level of ignorance, environment minister Owen Paterson claims that ancient woodland can be destroyed and replaced by tree planting “within an hour’s car drive”. See here, here and here. This comes just after the Government’s capitulation to the big farming lobby reducing CAP environment funds and Paterson’s claims about badgers moving gaol posts. Looks like being busy 2014 for anyone trying to conserve woods and trees!

December 19th. Despite publicly supporting the 15% maximum allowable transfer to the environment from direct EU farm payments environment minister Owen Paterson caved in to the farming lobby at the last minute by reducing environment payments to 12% of farm subsidies. It could have been worse. The leaderships of the NFU and the CLA were pulling out all the stops and weeping piteously to Paterson claiming disaster if they 'only' received 85% of automatic annual tax payer handouts (about £200 per hectare). 12% will at least mean agri-environment, forestry schemes and rural development projects will continue but at a lower level and in what form we have yet to see. The Government will review the situation in 2016 and is minded to restore the 15%. Given the hostility of the NFU & CLA national leadership, everyone else including the many environmentally minded farmers, will have to ensure that this numerically minuscule but loud and well funded anti-environment lobby doesn't get its way.

December 14th. Trees, hedgerows and a political battle over farm subsidies. Herefordshire is one of the most rural and well hedged of English counties and there are probably as many mature trees scattered amongst its hedges and fields as there are in its woods and urban areas. Environmental payments are a small fraction of farm subsidies which includes hedgerow management. Unfortunately, the National Farmers Union (NFU), which claims to represent all farmers with its strap-line “The voice of British farming” is currently trying to persuade Government to reduce environment payments see here. At the Malvern Farming Conference on 14th November Peter Kendall president of the NFU said about hedgerows: “We need big fields to complete with the USA” and has for many years been lobbying to remove the existing protection for hedgerows (the Hedgerow Regulations). To show what we stand to lose if the NFU got its way, click here for a gallery of Herefordshire hedgerow and tree landscapes which would be vulnerable without hedgerow protection and farm environment funds. If people feel moved, write to your MP to urge them to support the current proposal for 15% of farm subsidies to be ring fenced for the environment. This small proportion is the maximum allowable under the newly negotiated Common Agricultural Policy, the rest (85%) are automatic direct farm payments. The NFU wants direct payments to be 100% but is supporting 91% as a political compromise. The extent to which Herefordshire farmers share their presidents view is moot although the county NFU advisor is lobbying for a cut in environment funding.

Herefordshire state forests – new opportunities for transformation. The fall-out from Government’s abortive attempt to sell off the state forests has produced a re-vamp of the way the Forest Commission manages these public woodlands. The awkwardly renamed body the “Public Forest Estate Management Organisation” (PFE MO) has a mandate which includes the objectives “To maintain and enhance the natural and historic assets comprising the estate” and “To protect, manage and conserve the wildlife, associated habitats and ecosystems on the estate at a local and landscape scale.” Until very recently most of the Herefordshire PFE was managed to produce conifer monocultures, still mindlessly following the 1919 forestry policy to produce pit props for next Great War. The damage to large areas of Herefordshire’s native woodlands was substantial and the plantations an economic failure but things are looking up with this new body. The North Herefordshire woods, such as Mortimer, Wigmore Rolls, Shobdon Hill and Croft were especially badly effected by the previous administration (based at Rugeley) which was consistently hostile to conservation. Under the re-organised PFE MO these woods are now managed by the more progressive Coleford office and an early success is the Croft Estate whereby 40 hectares of conifers are being felled next to be restored to the former parkland of native trees (after much lobbying by National Trust and others). The new plan (actually an amended version of the 2010 plan) has room for improvement but its a good start see for details. A new Forest Design Plan (FDP) for the Mortimer Forest will be drawn up next year and for the Wigmore Rolls 2015. Those interested should get themselves onto the consultation list by contacting the planning forester (a male Fran BTW).

Restoring Herefordshire ancient woodlands. The Woodland Trust having secured Heritage Lottery Funding for a four year national project to help restore damaged ancient woodland has just appointed Jeremy Evans (current WT manager for Herefordshire) as its officer for Herefordshire, one of the target areas. The project is aimed at smaller native woodlands in private ownership and compliments actions that will be happening in the Public Forest Estate over the next few years.

Amey bulldozing ancient hedge, Credenhill12th November update on Biodiversity Offsetting [see below]. Environment Audit Committee (see EAC) has just published its recommendations the whole package as "too simplistic". The Woodland Trust put in a strong submission to which the EAC agreed with the recommendation [8] "offsetting would not be appropriate where environmental loss is irreplaceable within a reasonable timeframe, such as with ancient woodlands". Potentially protecting veteran trees and historic landscapes these recommendations clash with the Governments dash for development. See also the BBC article here

ancient oak pollard, StapletonNational Tree Week is from 23rd November to the 1st December . This is a great chance for communities to do something positive for their local treescape. The theme for Herefordshire tree week is heritage, veteran and ancient trees. Herefordshire has one of the largest populations of these wonderful survivors as any county in England. Programme here. Photo left is the old oak pollard at Stapleton SO328662

Herefordshire council's proposed budget cuts for 2014/15 are laid out in its consultation document here. Despite the council's conservation department already being greatly reduced, a further £2m is to be cut from 'environment' and £0.5m from 'regulatory services' (Page 16). As the document says: 'we will encourage more self regulation' (page 15) which is getting close to inviting people to give themselves permission to remove hedgerows and trees or indeed planning permission.

Biodiversity offsetting. This proposed part of national planning policy reduces the countryside to a collection of bargaining counters allowing developers to compensate for destruction by created "biodiversity units" elsewhere. In the "Guidance for offset providers" DEFRA officials rank habitats according to how difficult they think each one is to recreate and to restore. For example they claim that recreating wood-pasture and parkland is only of "medium" difficulty and that their restoration is of "low" difficulty. Ancient woodlands are similarly ranked. If you want to destroy Moccas park felling all its ancient trees or bulldoze Athlestans Wood for a car park you just have to create a few "biodiversity units" somewhere else. There is no history, archaeology or sense of place in this brave new countryside, just green Lego blocks to be moved about at developers convenience. Tellingly, DEFRA regards the difficulty of "recreating" hedgerows as "low" irrespective of how ancient they maybe. Details on the consultation are here.

Up to date information on the status and progress of Ash Dieback Disease (Chalara fraxinea) in the UK can be found on this useful website by Silvicultural Research International. There are presentations, YouTube videos and links to all the important current publications concerning this important disease which is likely to have a major impact on our countryside.

The Herefordshire Parklands Project is drawing to a close having studied a large number of the county’s parklands since its started in 2010 and involving an enthusiastic band of volunteers. A report of the project can now be downloaded here (and as published the Herefordshire Nature Trust’s journal The Flycatcher). This is just a brief summary as the project has produced a huge amount of data on all aspects of the many parks it has studied.

Tree forum notes from last meeting [ 20/9/13] here. Next meeting of the Tree Forum 8th November for 12 noon start at Plough Lane, council offices in the "Leominster Room"

possible AOD Holme Lacy parkWhile our urban trees are swept away by the Highways Agency juggernaut many of the county oaks are dying in the countryside due to a combination of factors including Acute Oak Decline (AOD) a poorly understood condition which has appeared in a number of county locations producing weeping black sores in the bark such as this one from Holme Lacy park. Comparison of aerial photographs in 2009 and 2000 during parkland surveys in Holme Lacy and Moccas reveals rapid die back and death in a number of oaks for unexplained reasons. The Forestry Commission has details of AOD and more photos here. We need to have more reported observations of this disease - with digital camera and GPS ideally. As if our trees didn't have enough to content with what with ash die back and tree rats (sorry, grey squirrels).

28/8/13 Edgar Street lime trees: Tree forum position statement here. Also note the relevant No Trees, No Future publication by the Trees and Design Action Group here

19/8/13 Edgar Street lime trees: As expected the Highways Agency has announced the removal of all expect 3 of the Edgar Tree limes trees here

20/7/13 Edgar Street lime trees: Information from a council meeting confirms that the consultation-free (see below) Highways Agency intends to remove at least 11 of the 14 lime trees but indicates it may come up with some tree planting as a sop, details unknown but hardly compensation. There is a 38 degrees petition     , a facebook page      and a couple of youtube videos      and    . Meanwhile Herefordshire Council has apparently been asked to provide published studies of the traffic calming effects of road side trees so here are a couple. See also press reports here and here.

11/7/13 Helping to green Hereford city. A new tree fund for the city has been launched in memory of Peter Williamson of Wyevale Nurseries. The fund receives charitable donations and makes funds available for tree planting within the city and suburbs see here for details

10/7/13 Cars before trees - we are still waiting to know the fate of the Edgar Street lime trees but this case shows just how restricted is any local involvement or control. As the road widening works are part of the national pinch point programme and on a trunk road [A49], the Highways Agency is not subject to local authority control so their designs and actions overide any environmental restrictions such as Tree Preservation Orders, conservation areas or the 100s of letters of complaint from local people. It will only be a response to moral pressure if any of the lime trees survive these works [cost £380k] some details here

Tree Forum meeting took place 9th July at the Shire Hall, Hereford. See the notes from the meeting here

The Woodland Trust has just secured a £1.9m Heritage Lottery Grant to help restore historic native woodlands damaged by plantation forestry which are known also known as PAWS (Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites). Herefordshire is one of the counties chosen to be a target area for the project which is appropriate as the county has one of the highest proportion of ancient woodlands converted to PAWS. See here

23/6/13 Report of the 14th June Herefordshire Tree Forum meeting at Cider Museum Hereford here. Next HTF steering group meeting is on Tuesday July 9th 2.30 pm at Shire Hall, Hereford. Items for discussion will include Tree Week programme planning and the Tree Warden Network. Details of the national tree warden scheme and tree planting grants see the Tree Council web site here or under links below.

25/6/13 Update on the unlicenced felling at Red Castle Marsh, Canon Pyon parish (see item below): Forestry Commission met with the farmer last week and under the Forestry Act, he was issued with a restocking notice to allow the woodland where it has been felled to regrow as coppice growth and the boundary to be fenced to excluded livestock. He has excepted this notice and will carry out those works once he has cleared the trees off site. The owner appeared reasonably interested in the other aspects of the site (peat deposits, botanical importance etc) so some menagement arrangement to secure and enhance its conservation attribrutes may be possible. Unfortunately, Higher Level Stewardship - the only grant mechanism for funding conservation management of this sort of site - is on hold unto the EU sorts out the CAP budget, which may mean a year or so if ever.

22/6/13 Report from the Trees Matter forum held at this years Spring Greens event at the Court of Noke 5th May here