Council Accelerates Towards Zero Carbon Target With New Tree and Biodiversity Strategies

TWO key new strategies which will help the Council deliver a net zero carbon Reading by 2030 and keep its promise to tackle the climate emergency are set to be consulted on later this month.

A new Tree Strategy and a new Biodiversity Action Plan will be debated at a meeting of the Council’s Housing, Neighbourhoods and Leisure Committee (HNLC) this week on Wednesday March 11, with a proposal to go out to public consultation on both through March and April.

Tree Strategy 2020

The Council’s draft 2020 Tree Strategy replaces the 2010 version. More than 2,000 trees have been planted on Council land during the lifespan of the previous strategy. The updated document now includes ambitious new targets for tree planting to both 2030 and 2050, and also outlines plans for protecting and maintaining Reading’s existing tree stock.

The draft Tree Strategy 2020 has been collated following an initial round of consultation with key environmental groups in the borough. Highlights include:

  • Planting at least 3,000 trees by 2030 on Council land
  • Increasing overall canopy cover across the borough  from the current figure of 18% to 25% by 2050, ensuring every single ward contains at least 12% canopy cover by 2050
  • Protecting, retaining, managing and planting trees to ensure an increased canopy cover of healthy trees resistant to diseases and climate change and to combat poor air quality.
  • Producing an annual audit of progress of net tree gain, with a reassessment of overall canopy cover targets in 2030.

Reading Borough Council currently owns and manages around 12,500 specimen trees, in addition to woodlands and groups of trees.  Overall, the tree canopy cover differs substantially in different parts of the Borough, from an 6.7% in Battle ward to 32.2% in more rural Mapledurham.

The proposed strategy includes shorter-term targets for tree planting by 2030 and longer-term targets for canopy cover by 2050. While the proposed planting of 3,000 new trees on Council land by 2030 represents a 50% increase over recent rates of planting, it is also acknowledged trees take some time to mature and it would be a number of years before increased tree planting is reflected in increased canopy cover, which is why no canopy cover target by 2030 is proposed. The proposed targets will be debated in more depth at the HNLC meeting on March 12.

The draft document outlines plans to engage with partners, the public and other landowners in the borough to raise awareness of the new Tree Strategy. As Local Planning Authority, it is also proposed that the Council continues to use its powers to retain and protect trees on development sites, in line with good arboricultural practice.

Councillor Karen Rowland, Reading Borough Council’s Lead Member for Heritage, Culture and Recreation, said:

“The Council’s new strategy outlines just how important trees are in combatting the effects of climate change. It is vital that we have a robust strategy in place as part of our commitment to tackle the Climate Emergency. It will be a key cog in the wheel to creating a net-zero carbon Reading by 2030.

“The new strategy includes the planting of 3,000 new trees on Council land over the next decade – an increase on Council land of 50%. Increasing tree cover is extremely challenging in a tight knit urban landscape like Reading, far more so than it is in a more rural town, but we need to meet the challenge head on by targeting priority areas and creating trees corridors in areas of poor air quality.

“It is also important to note that the Council owns only one quarter of all land in Reading. A good portion of that land is flood plains which are significant biodiversity habitats in their own right. Those factors substantially affect the total percentage of canopy cover that the Council can ensure over the entirety of the town. However, a key part of this our new strategy will be engaging and encouraging private landowners across the borough to work with the Council and increase canopy cover on their own land. The Climate Emergency is everybody’s problem and the responsibility for tackling it lies with everyone.”

The HNLC report and Tree Strategy 2020 can be found at:

https://democracy.reading.gov.uk/documents/s10636/Tree%20Strategy.pdf

https://democracy.reading.gov.uk/documents/s10637/Appendix%202%20Draft%20Tree%20Strategy.pdf

Biodiversity Action Plan

The Council’s proposed new Tree Strategy dovetails with a new Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) and, if agreed, the consultations with run in parallel.

The new Biodiversity Action Plan follows on from the previous BAP published in March 2006 which has since expired. This new succinct and user-friendly version is organised around 14 key themes, each with a set of priority objectives and actions for the protection and enhancement of biodiversity within Reading:

  • Legislation – to ensure our plans and actions comply with current legislation;
  • Designated sites – management, monitoring and selection;
  • Planning and building control – ensuring that there is no net loss and where achievable a net gain of biodiversity on development sites;
  • Woodlands, trees and hedgerows – management and identification of new woodlands;
  • Grasslands and road verges – including opportunities for wildflowers & pollinators;
  • The two rivers, their floodplains and other watercourses – ensuring that the wildlife of watercourses and surrounds is maintained and enhanced, including opportunities for habitat creation;
  • Management of Council projects and the sale of land – how the Council will take wildlife into account in its projects and land sales;
  • Education, access to nature, public engagement & volunteering – how the public will be engaged in the strategy;
  • Ecological records – to continue and improve the maintenance of these records;
  • Species and habitat specific actions – identify priority species for Reading;
  • Connectivity – to improve the connection of habitats to allow for movement;
  • Co-ordinated across council departments and within policy documents – ensuring all of the Council’s plans are pulling in the same direction;
  • Global biodiversity – actions the Council and partners can make to avoid contributing to global biodiversity loss
  • Ongoing review – how the Council will monitor and review the strategy..

The action plan, which has been drawn up with the help of a number of partners and groups with interest in biodiversity, would be kept under regular review over its lifetime.

Cllr Tony Page, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:

“We are living through an ecological and climate crisis. Biodiversity is diminishing across the globe and the quantity and diversity of wildlife even at a local level is declining. Although an urban town, Reading is incredibly rich in biodiversity along its rivers, in its parks, gardens and open spaces. However, without action to prevent activities that harm biodiversity and to encourage those that help it, it will continue to decline, and we will be much poorer for it.

“This draft action plan sets out how we will conserve, enhance and reverse the decline of biodiversity in Reading and is a vital part of our response to the climate emergency. We want to restore, extend and create new wildlife sites and habitats and this plan provides an essential framework to ensure that actions are coordinated and targeted.

“The new plan puts forward approaches such as trialling cutting road verges less frequently and identifying areas within parks that could be managed as longer grassland, as well as identifying and managing areas for wildflowers and pollinators.

“I’d like to thank all of our partners and groups that have contributed to the draft BAP and I hope they will continue to support our delivery of this vital plan moving forward.”

The HNLC report and draft Biodiversity Action Plan can be found at:

https://democracy.reading.gov.uk/documents/s10634/Biodiversity%20Action%20Plan.pdf

https://democracy.reading.gov.uk/documents/s10635/Appendix%202%20Draft%20Biodiversity%20Action%20Plan.pdf

If approved at this week’s HNLC, and a meeting of the Council’s Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport Committee on Monday March 16 , consultation details for both the Tree Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy will be publicised nearer the time.

Oscar Mortali

For media enquiries about this release email oscar.mortali@reading.gov.uk or call 0118 937 2301