DEAR editor,

I write as a practising woodland owner and operator (Sandhurst Copse & Sheepwalk, 32 ha of part ancient, mixed broadleaf, in the Surrey Hills AONB)* and as a grandparent, increasingly concerned about the climate and pollution of the planet that our grandchildren will inherit. 

I am particularly concerned about recent initiatives regarding planting trees in the context of offsetting carbon emissions. 

Yes, forests do contain carbon, but a forest is a carbon store waiting to be released. There is no guarantee of permanence. Consider the fires in the last 18 months, such as those in the Siberian Arctic, Alaska, California, Australia, Indonesia and Brazil. Such fires, which are likely to be more frequent in future, simply release all the stored carbon. They also destroy the nutrients taken up by those trees, some of which are essential for life, and which may not be subject to any current replenishment process. 

Secondly, the planting of trees risks letting people off the hook so they can avoid making serious and difficult decisions to change their behaviour. Unless every one of us starts taking such responsible action, the future appears bleak. We have to be able to credibly answer when future generations say: “OK, you finally realised the scale of climate change and pollution; but what action did you actually take at that point?”.

There is, however, a way forward. If Surrey County Council proposes to plant trees for each inhabitant, or the Woodland Trust does something similar, then in order to qualify for a tree to be planted for them, each person should be required to provide the following: 

- State the purpose of planting the tree. There are many good reasons for planting trees. Their tree can then be planted in a location where it will be cared for in accordance with the stated purpose. 

- State their own personal plan of action to contribute to a reduction in the rate of climate change and pollution. 

This approach would turn mindless tree planting into a dynamic force to actually achieve real benefit.

My own immediate plan includes changing my car to electric, not undertaking any long haul flights, not eating beef more than six times a year and not buying any unnecessary products dictated by fashion.

*I am also a member of the Royal Forestry Society, Confor, Woodland Trust and Woodland Heritage. 

Patrick Mannix 
The Court House, Shamley Green, GU5 0UB