We are pleased by the news on Wednesday October 20 that the Government has accepted the need to improve the protection of England’s ancient woods and trees and has committed to a number of measures to start addressing the issue. Now we need meaningful and rapid action to make these welcome commitments a reality.

The Government has announced a review of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and its implementation and has made a commitment to consult on strengthening the wording in the NPPF on ancient woodland. This should protect ancient woods and trees in England, which are facing a barrage of threats from inappropriate developments. The review must be guided by clear evidence. This includes evidence of how local authorities are implementing existing policy, as well as findings outlined in the Woodland Trust’s State of the UK’s Woods and Trees report, to ensure that it delivers a step change for the protection of our oldest woods and trees.

We’re also pleased that the Government has announced it will amend the Town and Country Planning (Consultation) (England) Direction 2021 so that local planning authorities must consult the Secretary of State if they want to grant planning permission for developments affecting ancient woodland. This is similar to the rules in place to protect playing fields from development. This will send a clear message to councils and developers that development must not be at the expense of our oldest woodlands. It is a positive step in recognising the value of our ancient woodland and preventing its destruction and damage.

We want to see swift action to put this in place and make sure it is followed.

The voices of the public and politicians from all parties who called for greater protection for ancient woodland and trees have been heard. It is crucial now that the Government delivers on the changes it has set out in a meaningful way by:

  • conducting a thorough review of NPPF implementation and guidance, which must bring forward clear rules on bigger and more effective buffers to protect our ancient woods and trees from the damaging impacts of development near these irreplaceable habitats.
  • ensuring that any broader changes to the planning system support the protection of our valued woods and trees.
  • funding the completion of the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI). The Government rightly acknowledged in Parliament that the AWI is a crucial tool for protecting trees and woods from harm from development.

We also encourage the Government to consider how protection for ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees can be further strengthened in relation to major infrastructure projects, which can have some of the most significant impacts on these habitats.

We are extremely disappointed that the Government chose not to support a number of other crucial cross-party amendments put down by the Lords that would have strengthened protections for nature - including on the independence of the new environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, and on removing blanket exemptions for some government departments from being bound by new environmental principles. We would urge the Government to rethink its opposition before the Bill is finalised - it’s not too late to tackle these fundamental shortcomings.

Notes to editors

For further information contact media@woodlandtrust.org.uk

The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters.

The Trust has three key aims:

  1. protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable
  2. restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life
  3. plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife.

Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering over 29,000 hectares. Access to its woods is free.


Environment Bill - Wednesday 20 October 2021 - Hansard - UK Parliament