During the preparation of the Partnership Plan including the Dartmoor Debates and public opinion survey, we received many comments in support of more trees in the landscape. Various terms were used, with general consensus around natural regeneration and succession of native woodland creeping up river valleys, but with less consensus around commercial forestry and conifer plantations, although the potential for woodland creation and management to support the local economy was broadly supported. Concerns were also raised that current policies and designations prevent new woodland creation from happening.
The Climate Change Committee has suggested a UK target of 1.5million hectares of new woodland planting by 2050 to respond to the climate emergency. The current government has a target to create 30,000ha of new woodland in England every year until 2025.
There are potential conflicts between more trees and other objectives of the Partnership Plan, including landscape character and cultural heritage. Trees are an important part of the landscape character in Dartmoor, but this does not mean that more trees would be appropriate everywhere, for example on the open, windswept upland moors which are one of Dartmoor’s special qualities due to the far-reaching views and a sense of remoteness and wildness. Many of the areas where more trees would fit into the landscape, for example along the river valleys, have important archaeological features such as the tin streaming along many moorland rivers, for which Dartmoor is internationally significant.
Woodlands and trees provide multiple benefits including carbon sequestration, natural flood management, climate regulation, wildlife, and providing locations for recreation, as well as supporting the local economy through timber production and wood fuel. Ancient and semi-natural woodlands are considered to be of greater value for cultural heritage and wildlife, whereas conifer plantations provide some different benefits and have the capacity to absorb greater numbers of visitors, including more active recreation such as mountain biking.
Dartmoor also holds significant carbon stores within its peatlands which are many times greater than its woodlands, and are of vital importance to conserve. Significant tree growth on deep peat is to be avoided, as it will likely to lead to peatland drainage, erosion and carbon emissions many times greater than the woodland’s carbon sequestration potential. Over the long term (200 years and more) peatlands in good condition have far greater carbon storage potential than the equivalent woodland.
- Dartmoor currently has around 12% woodland cover – the debate is not about trees or no trees, but about the right trees in the right place, and the scale and location of new woodland.
- Natural regeneration is already taking place across areas of Common land; an assessment of the impact on archaeology will help guide future decisions.
- As part of nature enhancement, an increase in woodland cover, primarily broadleaved and native species, delivered through natural regeneration and new planting will be guided by the Landscape Character Assessment and is likely to be primarily in the river valleys, farmed and forested plateau, farmland, and in and around settlements.
- Where increased tree cover is planned, aim to avoid negative impacts on significant heritage assets.
- Where conflicts cannot be avoided, the significance of the heritage assets will be considered, and records made if there is potential for the asset to be lost or changed.
- The species of trees established should be native and traditional to Dartmoor. Where other species need to be considered in response to climate change and pests /diseases including non-native species, these should be sympathetic to the landscape character, and enhance biodiversity.
- Work together to address potentially conflicting objectives in current policy and designations (such as prescriptions for Sites of Special Scientific Interest).