In respect to the Leisure Strategy, a large number of our residents choose to spend their leisure time outdoors enjoying nature in the many parks and woods that lay without our Council boundary. I know that laying our new, accessible woodland will be a priority as part of the Council’s tree planting initiatives. Following the announcement of the £300,000 grant for tree planting from the Woodland Trust, can you confirm to me that any trees planted using this money will be maintained and looked after properly and not just planted and allowed to fend for themselves?
As you rightly say Wokingham Borough Council recently successfully bid for grant funding from the Woodland Trust Emergency Tree Fund. We were one of only 10 councils around the country to receive this funding and we have been awarded a grant of £300k. The Woodland Trust recently announced am ambitious plan to establish 50m more trees across Britain by 2025. We are very proud to become one of the first phase partners with them in achieving their and our ambitious climate plans. An additional benefit for Wokingham Borough is that the funding brings with it the invaluable advice and support of experts in conservation and largescale planting.
The ongoing maintenance of trees is a concern that is raised by residents to both Councillor Batth and myself on a regular basis and it is something that we specifically had to address as part of our bid with the Woodland Trust. We were able to demonstrate that our overall budget for the 250k trees included money both for planting and for their ongoing maintenance.
In addition to this, going forward we will have two additional dedicated Tree Officers specifically responsible for carrying out inspections and maintenance works for these and for the stock of other Council trees.
It is important to stress here that this grant award was not the work of a few weeks. Councillor Halsall and I met with the Woodland Trust shortly after Wokingham Borough declared a climate emergency in 2019. Since then, as a council, we have opened up a number of very productive conversations with the Woodland Trust around our vision and the types of trees we should be planting across the Borough and where we should be planting them around our Garden Forest project. All of which resulted in Wokingham being invited to bid for funding as part of the Emergency Tree Fund.
I stress this because I have seen today that Members of the Opposition have tried to take some of the credit for this relationship and bask in the reflected glow of what is a great achievement for Wokingham residents and for the Officers of this Council. With that said this funding not only helps to kick start our tree planting programme but show that the Woodland Trust believes in both our planting programme and also in our future maintenance plan and I am very proud to say that I played a part in making it happen.
Are there are any plans for community engagement on where they will be planted? Will residents be able to make suggestions and will we engage with schools, user groups and parish and town councils and how will they feed their ideas in?
Yes, there are plans for engagement around it and I have spoken about the Garden Forest project already. That is our plan to put 10,000 trees into the homes and gardens of our residents and to hopefully give them an option of which type of trees that they will be able to choose from. We are doing that because we know it is a great way to make sure that those trees are maintained. Supplementary to that the Council’s Climate Emergency Team have begun what we call ‘drop in’ sessions with all the town councils around Wokingham Borough where we educate them on the different projects that are going on and there has already been a drop in session on trees where the town councils were invited to come along, listen to our plans for planting the 250,000 trees and input their thoughts and feed back in terms of the areas where those trees could be planted.
Some of the bigger planting projects we have already identified space for where they are going to be but for the smaller scale plantings, 1,000-5,000 tree size projects, we do not know quite yet where they are going to be and we are inviting all sorts of feedback in terms of where they could be from anybody who wants to tell us.
The town and parish councils are all invited to the drop-in sessions. Whether they choose to attend or not that is their choice, but they are all invited to come along to listen to what the Officers are working on, feed in their thoughts and ideas and understand what it means specifically for them.