Your appeals for our ancients have clearly been heard at the highest levels. For example, in his speech on the main stage at the Conservative Party Conference, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, lamented the loss of ancient woodland. As did Rebecca Pow, Parliamentary Private Secretary at his department and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees. Then, during a discussion in Parliament on the business of the House of Commons, Mims Davies, Vice-Chair of the APPG and a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), requested a formal debate on ancient woodland. This prompted Andrea Leadsom MP to reply that these habitats “are really quite astonishing and absolutely irreplaceable”. A debate could be a fantastic opportunity to further the need for policy amends. Such strong language from Mrs Leadsom, who spoke while in her role as the Leader of the House of Commons, shows how far our message is permeating throughout Westminster.
The online noise from more than 13,000 emails to ministers also helped us secure important face-to-face meetings, including an invitation to a cross-government meeting at DCLG. There we were able to reiterate our view, which is backed by independent legal advice – the Government’s stated intention to strengthen protection for our ancients can only be effective with an update to policy wording, ideally bringing it in line with our man-made heritage, for which any loss must be 'wholly exceptional'. Over 30,000 people have contacted the Government since February specifically requesting this change.
Officials accepted our call for parity is not anti-development. It’s about providing much-needed clarity for developers and planners alike, which leads to informed decisions – thereby bringing down the record number of ancient woods under threat (now standing at 506 in England alone). With your words to back us, we’re building on our lobbying work so all government departments can understand this.
Things are really moving towards crunch time
Across the UK, major step-changes in protection for our ancients draw ever closer. Most tangibly is English planning policy. The Planning Minister, Alok Sharma MP, has confirmed a draft of the revised National Planning Policy Framework will be published for consultation in early 2018, alongside the Government’s response to the Housing White Paper consultation. This will be our chance to embed that simple update into national policy. Our ancients will need you to speak up for them then – hopefully for the final time.