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Blog by Austin Brady, the Woodland Trust’s Director of Conservation and External Affairs.

The M&S Christmas Card Recycling Scheme and its big role in tackling the biggest threat to the UK’s trees
 
It’s a new year and for us it brings one of our biggest challenges, something which threatens to wipe out millions of our trees – disease.

It seems a rather sombre message after all the Christmas celebrations but it comes at the perfect time.

With the M&S Christmas Card Recycling Scheme in full flow, now has never been a more important time to encourage people to collect those cards and help get more  trees planted.

The impact of ash dieback – one of the most well known tree diseases - on the 12 million ash trees across the wider countryside could prove disastrous both for wildlife and our cherished landscapes.

Each year we invite the public to bring their Christmas cards to M&S stores and for every 1,000 collected, M&S plants a tree. Since 2012 more than 32 million cards have been collected and 32,000 trees have been planted. Each one of these trees is vital in our fight back against the impacts of tree disease. We need this sort of help from businesses - as well as the public of course – to make sure we can keep   our countryside beautiful and wildlife-rich into the future. .

Indeed, the facts are stark. Many people remember the 25 million British elms lost to Dutch elm disease, and more pests and diseases are taking hold, partly due to the increase in the global plant trade and changing environmental conditions.  We know that ash dieback is now present over much of the UK. Although we won’t lose all our ash trees immediately, we do expect many thousands to die across the countryside.

Put bluntly, tree disease is a bigger threat today because our trees and woods are already under great pressure from pollution, intensive land use, urban development and climate change – this means they are less able to withstand the impacts of new pests and diseases. 

We are already building new evidence of these potential effects. We have data that maps 280 million trees across England and Wales and have been able to compare different scenarios when ash trees are lost within woodlands and in the wider countryside. It suggests that even minimal tree loss from hedgerows and field margins could have a huge impact on the connectivity of the landscape – this undermines the natural mechanisms that link up our ecosystems and support our wildlife.  

We need to continue planting more native trees now, not only to protect the beauty of our landscapes but to provide the crucial habitat for wildlife that will be lost. 

How are we tackling it?

Our fight to combat the impacts of tree disease has already begun, through these methods:

• Surveillance of pests and disease spread across the UK with volunteer and citizen science schemes (where the public tell us about changes taking place).

• Encouraging landscapes that can thrive through responsible tree procurement and planting.

• Working to influence MPs and improve legislation that protects our woodland heritage.

• Planting only native trees sourced through responsible procurement – all our trees are grown only in the UK and from seed collected here - tree diseases have inadvertently come into the UK from overseas imports.

• How we plant – for example planting a wide range of alternative native trees to spread the risk of loss from any one disease.

• Providing ‘Disease recovery packs’ of native trees to landowners, to be planted in hedgerows, verges, along field edges and watersides in the wider countryside. 

• Encouraging schools and communities to apply for our free tree packs to plant in publicly accessible spaces to help increase tree cover and improve wildlife habitats.

We need others to tackle it. 

The fact is, we cannot tackle tree disease alone – we need help from the public and businesses through opportunities such as:

• Volunteering and tree planting opportunities

• Tree planting – through initiatives like the M&S Christmas Card Recycling Scheme

• Providing funding to help us deal with tree disease.

• Supporting  new research programmes 

• Joint communication initiatives

• Joint events to see and understand the problems and their solutions

• Providing ambassadors to engage others and spread the word

So, all in all, our rather sombre post Christmas message does include a strong theme of hope.

The tens of thousands of trees planted, thanks to projects such as the Christmas Card Recycling Scheme, will continue to help our countryside bounce back from the devastation of tree disease – and we hope to get millions more people on board with us in 2016.

If you'd like to find out more on tree disease click here.







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