MPs: Jason McCartney (chair); Liz Twist; Derek Thomas; Fiona Bruce; Henry Smith; Navendu Mishra; Caroline Nokes; Sir Oliver Heald; Ruth Jones; Simon Baynes; Thangam Debonnaire; Mike Hill; Michael Fabricant; Daisy Cooper; David Rutley.

MP representatives: Lynsey Jones (for Chris Grayling MP); Office of Apsana Begum MP; Office of Barbara Keeley MP.

Peers: Baroness Young; Baroness Bennet; Lord Carrington; Lord Teverson

Observer: Matthew Jordon (POST Fellow)

Woodland Trust: Darren Moorcroft (CEO); James Cooper; Andrew Allen; Rebecca Pullinger; Richard Barnes; Owen Pugh

1. Welcome, introduction and review of actions by Chair, Jason McCartney MP

Jason welcomed all to the meeting and confirmed that the actions of the previous meeting had been completed.  He then passed to Darren Moorcroft (Woodland Trust CEO) to give some opening comments about the agenda items. Darren reiterated the crucial timing of this meeting in a busy autumn for Parliament, and hoped that while in nature everything would be turning brown, green issues would be at the forefront of Parliamentarian’s minds, especially as we recover from the Covid crisis.

2. Review of England Tree Strategy consultation and proposed response from the APPG

James Cooper (Woodland Trust) led with opening comments highlighting that we had seen unprecedented political interest at the last election but the England Tree Strategy was a key moment in terms of whether this really translated into action, and suggested the letter circulated is sent by the group to Lord Goldsmith and that he and his officials be invited to a future meeting.

Andrew Allen (Woodland Trust) set out the main indications at present and some priorities for the group, highlighting:

  • The Government is working towards a December timeline for a final tree strategy
  • The Tree Strategy should have a statutory footing.
  • Targets within it need to be strong and formally binding, and tree planting targets should favour native woodland.
  • mandate local authorities to produce tree strategies (which will help with engaging people)
  • Strong push to make trees paid for by public purse to be UK & Ireland Sourced and Grown (to prevent import of tree diseases, and to support UK economy).

Attendees were invited to comment, and made suggestions to improve the proposed letter: Liz Twist suggested more specific targets for ancient woodland; Michael Fabricant suggested brevity to ensure broad sign-up; Sir Oliver Heald agreed with the latter point; Daisy Cooper raised nature connectivity and corridors, and more detail on the jobs/economy benefits.

Lord Carrington brought up the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) as the “elephant in the room”, as it had enormous implications for woods, forestry and hedgerows. He was worried there were no details on these and suggested the Government is pushed on this point as farmers need to be encouraged to look at these new schemes. He concluded that the letter must reference the ELMS and the urgency.  Ruth Jones and Sir Oliver Heald agreed with Lord Carrington.

ACTION: Woodland Trust to circulate a revised version of the letter incorporating the above points.

3. Proposed English planning reform

Becky Pullinger (Woodland Trust) introduced herself and provided an introduction to the planning proposals in the white paper and outlined top concerns:

  • The white paper makes no reference to irreplaceable habitats, which should be part of a protected area. Don’t want to undermine existing protection, including from indirect effects, such as maintaining buffers.
  • Making sure proposed reforms don’t undermine existing protections. Also concern that non-designated high quality woods and trees, especially in urban areas, may see an increase in threats.
  • Increased focus on data, opportunity to make more use of digital – Vital that the Ancient Woodland Inventory be updated so it can guide planning decisions now and in the future. Improving protection for ancient woodlands in particular.
  • Design guides – new development must provide space to grow and expand woods; noted the good proposals for tree-lined streets and the need to make these meaningful; people need access to green spaces.

The consultation closes on 29 October. Jason suggested response from the APPG and asked the Woodland Trust to write a draft.

James Cooper reminded attendees that this APPG was born out of a drive for greater protection for ancient woodland and veteran trees so it should aspire to make its presence felt on this issue.

Sir Oliver Heald raised the important role of natural regeneration, noting the Woodland Trust project in Sandridge (Heartwood). Rebecca responded that it was important to connect local nature recovery strategies and tree strategies to the planning process, so that natural regeneration could also be protected from development.

ACTION:  Woodland Trust to draft a suggested response for the APPG on the planning consultation.

ACTION:  Jason McCartney to invite the planning minister, Chris Pincher MP, to the next meeting.

4. Learning points from across the four countries

Although the Westminster parliament doesn’t have powers over domestic forestry policy in the four countries, there is excellent cross–country representation in the APPG. Richard Barnes (Woodland Trust) suggested there are lessons to be learnt from across the countries for protecting and expanding native tree cover:

  • Last week “The Programme for Government for Scotland” was published, with: a commitment to increase tree planting to 18,000ha by 2024; an additional £100m for Scottish Forestry to help reach this target; an additional £30m for Forestry and Land Scotland to expand Scotland’s national forest; and nurseries also received £20m to increase their productivity.
  • The Welsh Senedd Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs today announced over £106 million of investment in the Welsh rural economy over the next three years, including for: “Woodland creation and restoration, a key step in tackling climate change; Building resilience into our natural resources and improving biodiversity, which underpin our wellbeing and quality of life.”
  • Earlier this year the Senedd published the 5 yearly statutory report by the Future Generations Commissioner that reports on progress with goals from Well-Being of Future Generations ActThis Act is seen as a driver of cultural change and has helped create a policy environment that is friendly to environmental and ecological objectives.
  • In Northern Ireland, DAERA is developing a strategy to address ammonia emissions and has commissioned a major research programme on ammonia. The emerging conclusions from this research will be presented in three online lunchtime webinars later this month, including one on the ecological impacts.
  • Earlier this year Minister Poots announced a ‘Green Growth’ approach for Northern Ireland and said ”Developing and defending our natural assets is key to creating a resilient economy and a healthy environment and should be at the heart of future Government policies and business strategies”.

Simon Baynes noted the point about money in Wales as of particular interest to him, and asked to follow up on that with the Woodland Trust and see how it may be spent on woodland projects.

Baroness Bennet requested further information about the NI ammonia work.

5. AOB

Jason invited James Cooper to mention the English devolution white paper next month which will look at local economic recovery and the development of larger scale growth initiatives like the Northern Powerhouse. The Northern Forest led by the Woodland Trust and the Community Forests is a great example of what trees and woods can bring in terms of cleaning and greening these types of initiatives, which could be extended elsewhere in the country e.g. the Midlands Engine.

It helps to be in discussions early so members of this group could discuss with ministers, and local economic representatives, the role that woods and trees can play in shaping places where people will really want to invest, live, work and spend leisure time. Trees should not be an afterthought –the protection of existing woods and the expansion of local tree cover should be part of the thinking from the start.

Derek Thomas asked James Cooper about getting the ETS discussed in EFRA Committee and offered his assistance with this – James confirmed he has encouraged the committee to look into it this autumn and thanked him for this offer.

Jason suggested a potential date for the next APPG meeting (Tuesday 13 October at midday for 45 minutes) as that would be two weeks before the consultation on planning reforms closes. Jason will invite Chris Pincher to the next meeting [ACTION] and asked the Woodland Trust to circulate minutes of this meeting. [ACTION]

Jason reminded members of Dan Jarvis MP’s amendment NC19 to the Environment Bill which would set out priorities for the ETS and its review, and urged APPG members to support this improvement to the Bill, then closed the meeting with thanks to all the attendees for sparing the time on a busy afternoon.