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A carbon neutral water industry

English water companies commit to planting 11 million new trees by 2030
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
A carbon neutral water industry

Water companies in England have today announced plans to plant 11 million trees as part of a wider commitment to improve the natural environment. The move supports the goal to achieve a carbon neutral water industry by 2030.

The joint proposals will see trees planted on around 6,000 hectares of land across England together with work to restore original woodland and improve natural habitats that themselves provide carbon capture.

While some of this land is owned by the water companies themselves, additional land will be provided by partners such as local authorities, The National Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and The RSPB.

‘Doubling the UK’s tree cover is crucial in the fight against climate breakdown, so it’s great to see this commitment coming from some of our biggest water companies.

‘Large landholders, including water companies, have an opportunity and responsibility to use their land in the best way for the planet. We’re therefore challenging landowners everywhere to reintroduce trees and offering to help them on that journey.’

Friends of the Earth campaigner

Urban tree planting

Local partnerships with councils and regional NGOs will ensure that projects include urban tree planting, to bring health and wellbeing benefits to communities in towns and cities.

The Woodland Trust has agreed to work with all the water companies to help identify sites and manage the planting programme once it is developed.

Many water companies already work with charities on habitat improvement and regional planting programmes. This initiative will see those local partnerships taken to a national level to ensure that the industry achieves its ambitious plan.

Water companies will also look to join forces with existing initiatives such as the National Forest and Northern Forest.

Tree planting to date

United Utilities has already planted around 800,000 trees since 2005 and is committed to a further 440,000 in the next five years, primarily across urban environments.

Severn Trent has planted over 500,000 trees since 2015 and plans are in place for 250,000 trees to be planted in the next five years.

Anglian Water has plans to plant a million trees, hedging plants and shrubs in urban areas, as part of a 25-year initiative.

‘I welcome this pledge from England’s water companies, who have clearly seen the value in planting trees and acknowledged the vital role they will play in helping us to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

‘Trees are carbon sinks, provide crucial habitats for precious wildlife, mitigate flood risk and provide a valuable renewable resource in timber – and I encourage other industries to follow Water UK’s excellent example to ensure we boost planting rates across the country.’

Government Tree Champion

A carbon neutral water industry
Yorkshire Water: Tree planting above Gorpley reservoir in Calderdale, where up to 200,000 trees will be planted

‘Water companies play a unique role in running a vital public service and acting as long-term stewards of our natural environment. The trees they plant today will be a testament in years to come of the sector’s ground-breaking Public Interest Commitment, which goes beyond regulatory compliance and which, with the support of our partners, will deliver real social and environmental progress.’

Chief executive of Water UK

Habitat improvement

The companies, including the nine major water and sewerage providers in England, have committed to fully deliver the habitat improvement programme, which will include hedgerows and grasslands as well as trees.

The scheme will provide ‘nature corridors’ to offer significant biodiversity benefits as different habitats are connected.

The companies have also committed to ensuring their plans align with government tree planting and habitat improvement programmes, and have already had discussions with the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), including through the Government Tree Champion Sir William Worsley.

‘The Woodland Trust is delighted to be working with water sector in this exciting initiative. Trees and woods in the right place can deliver a multitude of benefits and we urgently need a massive expansion in our tree cover if we are to adapt to future climate change.’

Director of woodland creation at The Woodland Trust

The industry already has plans in place to plant the first 2.5 million of the 11 million trees. The next priority will be to identify additional sites across England which are appropriate for tree planting or habitat restoration.

The government’s committee on climate change aims to increase UK woodland coverage from 13% of land to 17% to help meet the target for ‘net zero’ carbon emissions by 2050.

Click here to read our article about how Octopus Energy’s tree planting campaign is helping to green the UK.

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