The new Parliament is finally up and running following the turbulence of the General Election, and before MPs return to their constituencies for the summer-recess next week, our supporters helped to get them along to an important meeting about strengthening protection for ancient woodland.
We helped establish the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees in the last Parliament in order to raise awareness of this precious habitat and the need to strengthen protection. This week we were delighted to see keen support among MPs for its continuation in the new Parliament – especially on such a busy day of parliamentary activity.
A healthy, cross-party turnout
With the help of dedicated supporters who emailed their MPs and encouraged them to attend the meeting, more than a dozen MPs came along (taking us way over the quorum of five), and another handful sent representatives or asked to become members because they couldn’t make it. We were also joined by two members of the House of Lords, making for a very healthy and encouraging attendance.
First things first, the group re-elected Rebecca Pow, MP for Taunton Deane, as Chair of the APPG. It then elected MPs Angela Smith, Mims Davies, Cheryl Gillan and Michael Fabricant as Vice-Chairs. Total membership of the group is currently 20, representing a range of parties.
Action on protecting ancient woodland
The Chair then welcomed the group, explaining that protection for ancient woodland is inadequate. We are currently dealing with more than 700 ancient woods under threat across the UK – the highest number in our history.
The group heard from us about the great opportunity we now have to address this. The Housing White Paper published in the last Parliament included proposals to strengthen protection for ancient woodland in the planning system. More than 15,000 of our supporters responded to the consultation, arguing for a crucial wording change to planning rules to make the loss or deterioration of ancient woodland “wholly exceptional” when it comes to development decisions.
Given that the Government followed this up by promising to strengthen protection for ancient woodland in its election manifesto, the APPG discussed what can now be done to ensure these commitments are fulfilled and this important issue does not get lost in the Government’s extremely busy agenda (given Brexit). A very purposeful and energetic discussion was had about making sure the manifesto pledge and aspiration in the Housing White Paper are delivered in a way which works on the ground as the Government presses on with its housebuilding and infrastructure developments.
The group agreed a number of actions and we will be working closely with members to fulfill these, so stay tuned for developments. A huge thank you to all our supporters who took the time to email their MP – more than 300 were reached in this way and several of those attending the APPG mentioned they were there because their constituents had asked them to be.