FORTY million trees would need to be planted in Oxfordshire if plans to double the amount of wooded land were to go ahead.

But land in the county is at a premium, with most of it used for agriculture, and another large proportion used for buildings.

As Oxfordshire County Council met on Tuesday, November 3, councillors backed calls to see the amount of tree cover in the county doubled by 2045.

Conservative councillor Suzanne Bartington, who tabled a debate on planting trees, said an overarching strategy was needed to help Oxfordshire play its part of the UK Government’s plan to plant 30 million trees each year.

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Dr Bartington said: “Really this motion is not about box ticking but really thinking about how we use land to the maximum benefit: that’s for capital and for the people of Oxfordshire as well.”

Councillors did not set a solid target, but they did agree there should be one, and Dr Bartington’s motion for debate suggested this should be to double the amount of trees in Oxfordshire by the year 2045.

If this was done, 40 million extra trees would need to be planted in the county by that time.

Approximately 9 per cent of the county’s land is currently covered by trees, which is well below the UK average of 16 per cent, and even less than the European national average which is 35 per cent.

Oxford Mail:

A tree cover map of Oxfordshire. The south east of the county is more wooded because of the Chilterns. Picture: Jamie Hartzell/OxTrees

According to Dr Bartington’s own figures, 70 per cent of Oxfordshire’s land is used for agricultural purposes, 20 per cent is covered in buildings, and the remaining 10 per cent is already used for other purposes.

Because of this, she advocated finding ways to plant more trees into the existing landscape.

She said: “We need a clear tree strategy for Oxfordshire for the next 30 years so we don’t get the wrong tree in the wrong place and risk damaging habitats.”

The right trees in the right place would mean planting native British tree species, but it would also mean choosing certain trees for certain areas.

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For example, some species might be used to store carbon from cars along busy roads, while others might be better suited to help stop flooding by soaking up groundwater, and others yet would be planted to improve wildlife habitats in the county.

Councillors unanimously agreed with the proposals to set a tree planting target.

The county’s only Green councillor, Pete Sudbury, said the need to act was urgent and also warned about getting the planting strategy right.

Dr Sudbury said: “There is an urgency about this because climate change is not waiting for us to get around planting a few trees.

“We need to be careful, because if we wanted to lock up carbon we would plant a lot of sitka spruce around Oxfordshire. Similarly if we want timber we would plant conifers where we should really be looking at broad leafed British trees.”

Oxford Mail:

Wolvercote Primary School planting '100 trees for 100 years of Wytham woods' in January this year. Picture: Ed Nix.

Other parts of Dr Bartington’s proposal to the council included writing to the Government for cash to fund the tree planting efforts, and working alongside private landowners to see how their land could support more trees.

Outside the council chamber, a group of campaigners is already working on a plan for where trees could be planted in Oxfordshire, and is mapping its suggestions of species and their benefits onto the county.

This ‘tree opportunity map’ is being created by Oxfordshire Trees for the Future, also known as OxTrees.

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Founding member Jamie Hartzell said it was important that landowners felt a ‘buy in’ on plans to plant more trees across the county, as it was their land where most of the new trees would have to go.

He said: “At the end of the day the decisions will be made by the individual landowners and farmers.

“We have we have pulled together a group of landowners and farmers and environmental groups to consider and work together with us on this map.”

OxTrees is working with a mapping company to create its countywide diagram for tree planting, and hopes it will be ready as an aid for official plans in 2021.