I believe it is crucial that we preserve our precious and valuable ancient woodlands, whilst expanding tree-planting in the UK.
The House of Lords voted to include enhanced protection from development for these woodlands in the Environment Bill. These sites are historic and unique, sequester carbon from the atmosphere, and protect and enhance some of our richest and most complex biodiversity.
I share concerns that the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) does not provide the protection these sites deserve. This is why I supported Lords Amendment 66 when the Bill returned to the House of Commons on 20 October 2021. However, sadly, the Government opposed it and removed it from the Bill.
The Government has stated that it will review the NPPF to ensure that it is being correctly implemented in relation to ancient woodlands. It will also consult on strengthening the Framework’s wording to better protect these woodlands, and amend regulations to require local planning authorities to consult the Government if they are minded to grant planning permission for developments affecting ancient woodlands. I will follow developments closely on this and continue to advocate for the protections that Lords Amendment 66 would have introduced for ancient woodlands.
More widely, in May, I supported an amendment that would have required the Government to publish a bold, ambitious tree-planting strategy for England, but it was voted down. This issue has cross-party and public support, and I am concerned that we are not doing enough, quickly enough.
We are in the middle of a climate and ecological crisis and I believe we need bolder and more urgent action to address it. The Environment Bill does make some difference but, in my view, it is insufficiently ambitious or urgent to comprehensively meet the scale of the challenges facing our environment.
Additionally, the Bill has been much delayed, as it was supposed to be law before the end of the UK’s transition period from the EU. This is a terrible message to send to the world in the year that the UK is hosting COP26.
I can assure you that my Opposition Colleagues and I will continue to support an improved Environment Bill and greater protection for ancient woodlands.