Value the Tree Not the Carbon. Part II

Understanding the value of natural elements in a landscape, means understanding the role of those who work in it.

Ecosystem Services has introduced a monetary value that is a simple new way of thinking, a way of talking in the same language of the financial world using their terms. A platform to discuss why it is important to protect the remaining vestiges of the natural world as a resource for human’s continued existence.  It was a method of explaining to the financially minded the basic ethos of sustainable development and its connection with working with biodiversity and natural elements in the landscape.

The trouble is, as so well proven in the UK’s debate surrounding the new ‘National Planning Policy Framework’ that many , many people had come to accept sustainable development as meaning ‘sustained economic development’. At the same time the UK government choose to dive head first into the economics of biodiversity at the deep end.

Many scratched their heads at the disparity of rolling out ecosystem services by way of the very progressive UKNEA against the new planning rules, when finally published. To those working in land management and settling down to the comfortable and all encompassing landscape approach to sustainable development such policy meanderings were more than confusing, they were potentially dangerous. But conservationists, particularly those in UK corporate NGOs were assured, victories were claimed.

The social aspect of sustainable development had been thrown away. In its place the fourth pillar, rarely acknowledged before in the UK the ‘Cultural’ pillar had been introduced not only in place of the social, but stealing this title also. The think tanks rushed off to discover all they could about heritage.

Did a ‘localism’ agenda and the ‘Big Society’ initiative highlight a potentially catastrophic future to corporate NGOs? The realities of sustainable development in place in all landscapes would, could break the fragmentation of habitats and empower those who can provide an economic stability location by location (The farmers, foresters, landscapers, others with traditional skills and knowledge, and most importantly the general public) this doesn’t sit well with concentrated efforts solely on precious habitat and profiting from a volunteer workforce.

Suddenly and silently ‘engagement with people’ disappeared as an essential from policy pdf’s influenced by corporate NGO lobbying into a consideration –a large step backwards.  

The argument that the UK corporate NGOs can speak on behalf of the people is hard to criticise and an understandable stance to take, it can help in looking out for stray policy and thus highlight to people as and when protest is needed. But it still ignores what people and practitioners know in their place. The landscape approach (firmly in the hands of a growing independent movement utilising the web as its face and gaining credence because it talks the language many public relate to) sits well with an ecosystem services approach but it is at juxtaposition with the governmental direction.

Trying to straddle the two concepts of a ‘green economy’ based purely on values ascertained by ecosystem services and real sustainable development based on a combined landscape and ecosystems services approach has been hard for some organisations and there is now floating about the ether much nonsensical NGO speak, struggling to justify a stance and trying to cater for both.

The real values get distorted in NGO PR speak and this only fuels a rising sceptical public opinion of what these values can do, for example: ‘Trees raise house prices’ – this is true but doesn’t even touch on what the true value of a tree is. In fact it is counter productive because tree valuation systems are much more precise and better defined than the silly and non professional system of property valuation that had helped in creating the worldwide economic crisis we are in now.

And how can you on the one hand shout for extra tree protection by legislation, even on occasion using the sad truth to bolster your argument that many councils fell trees without remorse (whilst in truth it is due to the huge costs of litigation should something go wrong) ignoring the fact that the councils’ cannot afford to replant, and then also state that trees raise house prices! This makes no sense as the over protection of trees and the removal of responsibility by the councils will turn people away from tree planting. There is far too much ill thought out publicity re trees, which highlight nothing more than an almost callous attempt to hoover the donations of concerned public, which in turn further decreases potential funding for re planting. This is further compounded by the fact that the true tree valuation systems that exist; Helliwell, CAVAT, CTLA and even iTrees, can help in providing a real source of money to councils to charge for damage and wilful destruction of trees (a working model of a viable mitigation system).

This continual demonising of a model that is not perfect but is better than any alternative on offer is potentially a very damaging own goal to those who are trying to straddle all issues with trees to gain funding because whilst we sit in the sandbox waiting for carbon and biodiversity offsetting to fail, which it will – but will take a long time before failure is accepted, we will see a steady decline in the health and number of trees; be they non woodland, forest or ancient woodland trees, and this will be a fact hard to shake association with off when displaying a banner of being the leading or even just a player in the conservation, planting and protection of trees.

And as the UK continues to be as vain as it is in believing itself to be a valuable case study in terms of land management and biodiversity particularly with regards offsetting there is a risk that other countries will be fooled into believing those in charge at this brief moment in time of that utopian rural landscape seen on biscuit tins. Of course in reality it was centuries of work by land management practitioners, working in their landscapes who had succeeded in creating this serene sustainable scene and forgetting their role is as fatal to real sustainable development progression as ignoring the rights of indigenous people across the globe.


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