Skip Navigation

Welcome woodland strategy refresh for Wales

Since 2001, the Welsh Government’s Woodlands for Wales strategy has set out its forestry policy direction and priorities. Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn AM has announced an important and welcome latest refresh of this strategy. She also confirmed forestry as a top priority.

Updates to the strategy

The strategy aspires to increase Wales’ woodland cover by at least 2000 hectares a year from 2020 to 2030. It also proposes an increase in tree cover in the wider environment, on farms, the rural landscape and in and around towns and cities. And it commits to the UK Woodland Assurance Standard (UKWAS) - an independent certification standard for sustainable woodland management – for the Government’s woodland estate.

There are welcome intentions on supporting trees in cities, developing green infrastructure, involving communities, and supporting health and wellbeing outcomes.

Supportive statements are made on better protection for ancient and veteran trees, and restoring plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS). Ministers and civil servants have noted the great public response to our recent campaign to strengthen ancient tree and woodland protection in planning guidance.

The strategy suggests a better future for Wales' woods and trees, but actions speak louder than words (Photo: Welsh Government)
The strategy suggests a better future for Wales' woods and trees, but actions speak louder than words (Photo: Welsh Government)

Overall, the Welsh Government is delivering the forest policies we want to see. The challenges now lie in reflecting these policies in other areas of Government, from health to economic development, and in making sure policies are delivered.

Hear more about the strategy in a Welsh language interview with Rory Francis on Radio Cymru.

Gap between policy and action

Slow progress shows the gap between policy and action. Woodland creation rates are currently 400ha a year in Wales, against a target of 2000ha. Ancient woodland restoration is also slow, especially in private sector forestry.

Unfortunately, forestry is still damaging some ancient woods. The Government isn’t solely responsible for change; the rest of us need to help too. We're working with the Welsh Government and Natural Resources Wales to contribute to practical delivery and help landowners do the same.

Further policy updates planned

Planning policy is being updated in Wales, so we will need to keep a sharp eye on what it includes, who will make decisions and how. Planning decisions are a major driver of ancient woodland damage and destruction, especially those on major infrastructure works such as road building. An example is the proposed M4-A48 link road, which we are fighting since it will destroy several ancient woods.

Tell Welsh Government that practice needs to match policy

Say no to the M4-A48 road destroying ancient woods

Log Wood is one of several ancient woods threatened by M4-A48 link road plans (Photo: Nigel Pugh)
Log Wood is one of several ancient woods threatened by M4-A48 link road plans (Photo: Nigel Pugh)

There is fundamental conflict between destroying irreplaceable ancient woodland and the obligations to support sustainable development in the Government’s own Well-being for Future Generations Act. We have already written to an Assembly Committee to highlight this conflict. 

The Welsh Government is also producing a Clean Air Strategy this year. This follows Public Health Wales’ report on air pollution, particularly that generated by more traffic.

Though reducing pollution at source is priority, the Welsh Government acknowledges that trees are important in reducing the impact of pollution. The challenge is converting that acceptance to action on the ground. We’re contributing to a working group on green infrastructure, but have concerns that action on the ground contradicts these good policy intentions. With a substantial loss of arboricultural expertise from local authorities has come a failure to appreciate the value of urban trees, disinvestment from caring for them, and consequent losses of mature trees.

Delivering government commitments

With the UK preparing for Brexit, environmental governance is a key issue. Holding governments to account currently depends on European law and the European Court of Justice. Once we leave the EU, we face the risk of no body to enable action.

The Welsh Government has suggested that the environmental principles in the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 and DEFRA’s proposal for a new environment watchdog are for England only. However, it hasn’t yet come forward with alternative proposals. We’re working with other environmental organisations in the Greener UK coalition to argue for a strong, independent environmental governance body with power to initiate legal action and impose fines if necessary.

What we need to do

We need to continue to work with governments to find solutions and make progress, but our influence depends on public support. Please keep supporting our campaigns. If you can talk to your AM or MP, ask them to back an effective body that can hold government to account on the environment, for all of us and for future generations.

Tell Welsh Government that practice needs to match policy

Say no to the M4-A48 road destroying ancient woods