We have been delighted with the interest in the All Party Parliamentary Group on Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees. The group gathered this week for the first time since the announcement of the Government’s intention to strengthen protection for ancient woodland in England.
It’s never easy fitting in with the tight schedules of MPs in an ordinary Parliament, but when that Parliament has a Government with a wafer thin majority and vote attendance is of the utmost importance, holding an undisrupted APPG meeting is not without its challenges.
In this climate, we were pleased to secure the housing minister, Dominic Raab, to hear a presentation on how we see the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) proposals and answer our questions on it. Chaired by Rebecca Pow MP and with secretariat provided by the Woodland Trust, the mood of the group was partly upbeat in the light of the recent NPPF proposals, and partly one of unfinished business.
The NPPF wording on offer provides ‘wholly exceptional’ protection to our ancient woodland which is a big step forward, but our main concern is that it does not elevate individual ancient and veteran trees to the same level of protection and we want to see this addressed. Ancient woodland continues to be threatened by infrastructure without the protection of the NPPF.
Hope for ancient and veteran trees
In what was a very candid exchange of ideas, we explained to the minister that in spite of fears that individual ancient and veteran trees might hold up infrastructure and housing projects, this had happened only rarely in the past two years. He took this on board and although the NPPF was never going to be changed on the hoof there and then, we did get a promise from the minister that he would consider adjusting the wording on ancient and veteran trees subject to additional evidence and further discussions with officials. So, although these were short and sweet discussions given the interruptions by the division bell, we have a clear action emanating from the meeting. The fact that ancient woodland alone is being offered the kind of ‘wholly exceptional’ protection we have been campaigning for clearly shows the importance of using all of our options to make this change a reality: the voices of our supporters, our ongoing advocacy activity, and the heightened parliamentary profile through the APPG.
The group concluded by affirming its commitment to send a follow up letter to the minister, building on the day’s discussions. Members were also given an update by our senior conservation adviser, Richard Barnes on our concerns around the ongoing impact of infrastructure on ancient woodland; indeed, we gave evidence to the HS2 Bill Committee that morning.
Thanks must once again go to you, our supporters, for helping to get MPs along to these meetings. As you can see from the changes being proposed, this is really helping us get our message across at the heart of Government. However, the issue isn’t resolved yet and there’s still nearly two weeks left before the consultation closes on 10 May. Please play your part and respond to this consultation, telling the Government why ancient woodland and veteran trees need ‘wholly exceptional’ protection.