By Mark Funnell, ANT’s Chair

Planting trees can bend time. You’re often thinking of what your grandchildren and their children will inherit. That perhaps that one oak might still be there in 1,000 years.

Go back 1,000 years, when Norman monarchs started charging around their hunting forests, and 15% of Britain was covered in woodland. That went down to 5% early in the twentieth century – following clearance for agriculture and grazing, industrialisation and then extensive use of timber during the First World War (think pit props and trenching).

And now? In England we are back up to 10% woodland cover. (Shout out to Forestry Commission, Forestry England, The Woodland Trust and many others.) And Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is aiming for 12% by 2060.

If that doesn’t sound like much, it would mean multiplying current planting rates by a factor of 10 to 40. Plenty to do.

Why does this matter? Even at our low levels of woodland cover, trees currently remove around 4% of the UK’s greenhouse gases. So there’s a big net zero incentive.

But of course we also love woods, and they make us feel better. The mental health benefits of visiting woodlands in the UK are estimated at £185m a year. This is based on evidence of the reduced incidence of depression and anxiety resulting from regular visits, according to Forest Research. Now that’s something we could do with more of, as this mental health epidemic grips our nation.

And that’s before we get on to reducing flood risk, removing particulate pollution, providing habitats for thousands of wildlife species, and the timber yield (with carbon locked up inside it) for building.

A tree really is a magic wand.

A few days after Earth Day, I’ve been reflecting on this magic. And how lucky I am to work with colleagues at the National Trust and Avon Needs Trees to create a more wooded UK. Advocacy, campaigning, communicating, but also helping get new woodland creation schemes off the ground, like Great Avon Wood and Lower Chew Forest.

One of my colleagues Celia calls me The Lorax. I wasn’t sure why, and I just looked it up. Dr Seuss’ Lorax “speaks for the trees”. Now that’s a nickname I can certainly live with.