'Christmas trees can be a reminder of a wider issue...'

Lady Arran, John Hart, Philip Jenkinson and Jeff Trail at a tree planting event

Lady Arran, the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Devon, John Hart, Deputy Lieutenant Philip Jenkinson and the chairman of the county council and Exmouth councillor, Jeff Trail - Credit: DCC

Firstly, I would like to thank you for reading this column - whether you're a regular reader or just browsing over the holiday - and for the feedback I receive. It's really important for political leaders to keep in touch with the people who pay the bills for the services that councils provide and those who use them.

I would also like to wish you a safe, healthy and happy Christmas and let's hope 2022 is better than 2021.

This is the time of year when almost all of us bring a tree into our homes as the centrepiece of our Christmas decorations.

I hope your tree is looking suitably festive but perhaps also serving as a reminder of the vital part that trees play in our natural landscape and the beauty they add to our surroundings.

Recently I joined Lady Arran, the Vice Lord Lieutenant of Devon, to plant a ceremonial tree in the grounds of County Hall. Lady Arran is helping the Lord Lieutenant with the Queen’s Green Canopy which is marking Her Majesty's 70th Jubilee next year with a programme of tree planting.

Together with one of the Deputy Lieutenants, Philip Jenkinson, and the chairman of the county council and Exmouth councillor, Jeff Trail, we launched the Queen's Green Canopy in Devon.

Devon County Council is supporting the project which is inviting people across the country to Plant a Tree for the Jubilee.

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Separately, we have also helped set up the Devon Ash Dieback Resilience Forum.

I've written here before about the dreadful scourge of ash dieback. It's predicted that this terrible disease could wipe out 90 per cent of our native ash trees within 15 years.

In Devon, ash is the second most common tree outside of woodlands so our landscapes are going to change dramatically and the diverse wildlife that ash trees support will be at risk.

So we are backing a project called Saving Devon's Treescapes which is being led by Devon Wildlife Trust. 

This will provide support for local communities to plant and look after 250,000 trees across the county over the next four years to mitigate the huge loss of our ash trees. We are helping to fund the project along with the National Lottery Heritage Fund and a range of other partners.

And where we are having to remove diseased trees, we have committed to using the 3:2:1 ratio when replanting and we are encouraging landowners to do the same.

If you remove one mature tree, plant three saplings as a replacement and if you're removing a semi-mature tree, plant two saplings. Replace a small sapling tree with another sapling.

We've also launched an emergency tree fund with £300,000 from the Woodland Trust. This will enable us to demonstrate how tree planting might be accelerated across Devon to support nature recovery and counter the effects of tree diseases as well as combatting climate change.

The county council has pledged to be net carbon zero by 2030 and we are currently planting 28 acres of land outside of Exeter as part of our mitigation efforts.

Not only do trees process carbon dioxide and produce oxygen but they support wildlife, reduce flood risk, help cut noise and filter air pollution so this is important work.

The Woodland Trust is also supporting many of these campaigns and I would urge you to have a look at their website, along with the county council and Saving Devon’s Treescapes to see what’s happening in your community and check out whether, as a householder or a landowner, you might qualify for free trees to plant.