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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 42 million cards have been collected and 42,000 trees have been planted.

This kind of brilliant tree planting commitment has never been more important with our woodland heritage under threat from pests and diseases, the constant attrition of loss and damage from development, climate change, over-grazing and intensive land use.

This year’s scheme also took place against a backdrop of the lowest planting figures for a generation. Efforts to increase tree cover through public grants have shown a steep decline – dropping to an all time low of only 700ha in 2015/16 (roughly 700 football pitches)

It’s extraordinary that this should happen when the evidence grows stronger than ever about the range of benefits provided by trees. Work carried out for the Woodland Trust* by Europe Economics found that trees deliver £270 billion worth of benefits to society, cost-effectively delivering across a wide range of policy challenges from air quality to flood alleviation.  Work by the Government’s own Natural Capital Committee identified that planting 250,000ha of new woods close to people would generate £500m worth of social benefits per annum.

It goes without saying that this also takes place against a backdrop of wider uncertainty. But if this evidence base is acted upon, then leaving the Common Agricultural Policy could deliver positive outcomes for woods and trees. For example, we need to make it far easier for landowners to integrate tree planting into their land use plans. We also need to harness new and innovative sources of funding for tree planting that will capture the imagination of investors, landowners and the wider public alike in order to harness the potential which exists to shape a landscape that really delivers in terms of benefits to the public.

Placing woods and trees - and all that they deliver for us - at the heart of the 25 year plan for the environment currently in preparation by Defra would be a positive early statement of intent. We would encourage interested parties to make their voices heard in response to the public consultation on that plan – expected shortly. M&S customers have helped support our work over the past few years but now it’s important that everyone who values our woodland heritage voices their support too.

Keep up to date with more of our blogging on policies and Government Affairs here

*About the Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust has over 500,000 members and supporters and more than 1,000 sites all over the UK.

It believes life’s better with trees. It protects and campaigns on behalf of this country’s woods, plants more trees, and restores ancient woodland, for the benefit of wildlife and people.

It wants to see a UK rich in woods and trees, enjoyed and valued by everyone.