Taking trees to the top

This autumn represents a real opportunity to seize in terms of trees. Over the coming months, the Government will make important decisions on policies which will have major implications for our woods and trees: the updating of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), the HS2 Phase 2a Bill and the 25 Year Plan for the Environment. Not to mention the huge piece of work which is the EU Withdrawal Bill.

So as the official opposition Labour party met in Brighton and then the governing Conservative Party met in Manchester, we went along to challenge leading politicians on their commitments and intentions.

Down to Brighton

First it was down to Brighton, where we teamed up with the Fabian Society to host a panel debate titled 'Powerful People Powerful Places: Engaging communities in environmental activism'. Our Chief Executive Beccy Speight joined Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman, among others, on the panel, and talked about the need to build a participatory culture to tackle the issues of poor tree planting rates and the loss of precious ancient woodland in communities across the country. Beccy also talked about the need to seize the opportunity of Brexit to enhance our environmental credentials, and even move towards an environment act.

You can read more about what happened in this summary of the event on Politics Home.

Woodland Trust CEO Beccy Speight urges action on low planting rates and poor ancient woodland protection.
Woodland Trust CEO Beccy Speight urges action on low planting rates and poor ancient woodland protection.

Over to Manchester

We then took our literature and banners over to Manchester, where we held a joint debate with the Bright Blue think-tank, entitled “Green and pleasant land? The countryside after Brexit”. The panelists, which included Beccy and Therese Coffey, Environment Minister, agreed that leaving the EU represents a pivotal, “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity to craft a new, more environmentally-friendly land-use policy that takes much better advantage of all the benefits of woods and trees. Again, you can read more detail about the event in this summary on Politics Home.

This was followed by an event with Confor, at which Beccy again had the opportunity to impress upon the Minister and those present the need to drastically improve tree planting rates, which she stressed “are at an all-time low”. Along with Confor and the CLA, the Woodland Trust published a joint statement calling for dramatic improvements in woodland creation and planting incentives that will help deliver on all our priorities.

Time is running out for ancient woodland

Take action now

At both conferences, we were also pleased to be part of events organised in association with the Greener UK coalition of environmental NGOs, which focused on building support for ensuring that EU environmental protections are comprehensively carried over into domestic legislation when we leave the EU. In Manchester, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment, spoke at a reception to welcome this work and the challenge that Greener UK has set the Government.

Party faithful

Elsewhere, in his speech to the party faithful in the main conference hall, we were pleased to hear Mr Gove lamenting the loss of ancient woodland. However, and as we explained to him and his colleagues, the Government’s current proposals (set out in the Housing White Paper) to improve protection for this irreplaceable habitat will unfortunately not do the job in practice. It is vital that as the NPPF comes up for review in the coming months, we keep up the pressure to get the wording updated so that loss of ancient woodland becomes “wholly exceptional”. Without this, the Government will fail to deliver on its commitment to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited it. If you haven’t already you can take part in our action campaign.

Finally, we will also be in Glasgow hosting an event at the Scottish National Party conference on 9 October, and will bring you news of this when it happens.

Time is running out for ancient woodland

Take action now