The call for a Tree Charter was initiated in 2015 by the Woodland Trust in response to the crisis facing trees and woods in the UK. There was no clear, unifying statement about the rights of people in the UK to the benefits of trees, woods and forests. The UK’s trees and woods face:
Each one of these issues was being addressed in isolation by a small number of concerned organisations and tree lovers.
A new approach was needed – a rallying cry that could unite these individuals and specialist organisations, and help them speak with one voice. It was important to ensure the role of trees and woods in our lives could be visible and recognised in decision-making and practice.
The Woodland Trust reached out to all sections of UK society to define this new charter, and to build a people-powered movement for trees. More than 70 organisations and 300 local community groups answered the call and helped to collect over 60,000 tree stories from people, demonstrating the important role that trees play in their lives. These stories were read and shared, and helped to define the 10 Principles of the Tree Charter, ensuring that it stands for every tree and every person in the UK.
On 6 November 2017, on the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest, the new Charter for Trees, Woods and People was launched at Lincoln Castle – home to one of the two remaining copies of the 1217 Charter of the Forest. It now rests in the Lincolnshire Archives.
The words of the final charter were crafted by author Professor Fiona Stafford and handwritten by calligrapher Patricia Lovett MBE. The charter is set down in ink made from oak galls by artist Jo Lathwood – just as the original Charter of the Forest was before it.
Trees have stood up for people since the beginning of human history, providing fuel for our fires, shelter from the elements, timber for our buildings, and places for inspiration and relaxation. To our ancestors trees held a special sacred status due to their vital role in everyday life and the emotions they stirred. Trees and woods are rooted in our language, culture, literature, art and industry.
In 1217 the Charter of the Forest was signed by Henry III to protect the rights of free men in England to access and use the Royal Forests which had been set aside as the King’s hunting grounds. Prior to this, anyone entering Royal Forests to access sustainable benefits, such as firewood, could be punished severely for stealing.
800 years on the role of trees and woods in the lives of people living in the UK has changed. But trees and woods are in need of protection more now than ever before.
In 2010 the Government announced plans to sell off parts of the Public Forest Estate (PFE) in England, but the public outcry took them by surprise and forced them to abandon these plans. Although representing just 18% of woodland cover in England, the PFE provides more than 50% of the accessible woodland that people can visit and enjoy across the country. The anger that erupted at the prospect of losing this valuable asset gave an insight into just how important trees and woods are to people.
The Independent Panel Review on Forestry, published in 2011, suggested that there was a need for a new charter that reflected the modern day role of trees in our lives, and safeguarded access to the PFE for future generations. In his introduction to the report, the panel’s chair Bishop James Jones highlighted the wider issues that the outcry had brought into public consciousness. He talked about the importance of trees and woods in our lives regardless of whether they are in the Public Forest Estate, a nearby park or along the side of a farmer’s field.
Chairing the Independent Panel on Forestry has taken me on a personal journey towards a realisation that, as a society, we have lost sight of the value of trees and woodlands…The Government picked up on very few of the panel’s recommendations, and it was clear that the issues raised were relevant not only to the PFE, and not only England, but to every tree and person across the UK. Our hope is that this challenge to society has been addressed in the development and launch of the Charter for Trees, Woods and People.
As a Panel we have a vision of a more wooded landscape and more woods closer to where people live. There is a place for urban trees, wooded parklands and hedgerows as much as for conifer plantations and small scattered woodlands within a broader landscape… and getting a far greater number of woods - both new and existing ones - managed sustainably is essential.
Government, woodland owners, the forestry sector, non-Government organisations, communities and the public all have a role to play.
Bishop James Jones
The Charter for Trees, Woods and People has the full backing of the following cross-sector organisations, who together formed a steering group chaired by the Woodland Trust that worked together for two years to galvanise public support and agree the final wording of the charter.