Attendees

Jason McCartney MP (Chair), Simon Baynes MP, Navendu Mishra MP, Baroness Young of Old Scone, Lord Lucas, Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, Margaret Greenwood MP, Neil Parish MP, Lord Carrington, Alex Sobel MP, Earl of Caithness, Lord Blencathra, Will Elliott (Office of Derek Thomas MP), Iain Fraser (Office of Ronnie Cowan MP), Tom Critchley (Office of Barry Sheerman MP).

Woodland Trust: Dr Darren Moorcroft, Dr James Cooper, Emily Hunter, Andrew Allen, Cassie Staines, Owen Pugh, Oliver Newham.

Other attendees: River Holme Connections

Apologies: Theresa Villiers MP, Catherine West MP.

Discussion

Dr Moorcroft and Dr Cooper (Woodland Trust) provided an overview of progress made in the last year regarding woods and trees.

Positive actions stemming from COP26 were highlighted including the deforestation commitment and references to nature in the final text. Looking ahead to 2022, there was much to be done to deliver for trees. Early legislative opportunities may appear in the Nature Green Paper, consultations stemming from the Environment Act, the Levelling Up White Paper, HS2 Phase 2b bill and planning legislation due out this year. All of these will have impacts on woods and trees.

With the biodiversity COP15 also due in April 2022 this is a pivotal year and one in which the tree agenda remains as relevant as ever. The environment can play a key role in the cost-of-living crisis and quality of life conversations due to dominate politics.

Nature Green Paper

Emily Hunter (Woodland Trust) presented a brief summary of the current situation with the Nature Green Paper that is expected in 2022. The following was revealed:

  • The Nature Green Paper was expected at the end of 2021 but has instead been delayed. It is now expected in either February or March 2022.
  • It will focus on delivering 30x30 (the pledge to protect 30% of land and 30% of seas around the UK) and species abundance commitments.
  • The proposed chapter on woods and trees has been dropped but it is not clear why.

As an organisation, the Woodland Trust will aim to look at long established woodland protections, along with restoration of PAWS (Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites) and SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest). Land outside of the 30x30 commitments is important too and trees can help connect sites.

Points were raised by members highlighting the benefits of growing more trees in the UK and providing more substance to link up government ideas. Other members looked to find out what research exists to promote the incorporation of trees in developments, for example through their effect on improving house prices. Caution was also urged over the push for planting trees on farmland as farmers continue to grapple with the ELMS programmes and given the length of the transition period. Greater remuneration for farmers to commit to planting of woodlands was urged.

In response to these, the importance of growing more trees in the UK was welcomed and the Woodland Trust’s own efforts in this area through the UK and Ireland Sourced and Grown scheme was highlighted. Research which shows the benefits of nearby trees and green space to house prices in the Northern Forest area was also highlighted and it was agreed that greater clarity and certainty of farming schemes and remuneration for woodland creation was needed.

Ancient woodland commitments from the Environment Act

Dr Cooper (Woodland Trust) made a few points to introduce this topic to the APPG. In doing so he pointed to the COP26 commitment on deforestation and made clear that this requires domestic action as well as international which members of the group and allies sought to push for during the latter stages of the Environment Bill before Christmas.

Baroness Young of Old Scone and a cross party grouping tabled an amendment aimed at securing greater ancient woodland protections in the House of Lords during the Environment Act’s passage and this resulted in government concessions being offered. These are as follows:

  • A review of how current policy on ancient woodlands is implemented.
  • A consultation on wording of the National Planning Policy Framework.
  • A requirement for any planning applications for developments affecting ancient woodland that are passed should be referred to the Secretary of State for determination.

It is important that the commitment to deliver on these ancient woodland plans are not side-lined until the publication of the Levelling Up Bill because they are very much part of the post-COP landscape. The review of current policy needs to be got underway and members were urged to get involved in maintaining the pressure on government to deliver this.

It was also noted that Scotland has introduced tougher ancient woodland protections, but these haven’t been seen in practice yet.

Woodland tree targets

Andrew Allen (Woodland Trust) made a short presentation to the APPG outlining the situation regarding proposed woodland cover/tree targets. The targets stem from the Environment Act where it was indicated that environmental targets would be introduced. However, they need to deliver the 25 Year Environment Plan and need to be long term (at least 15 years) to have an effect. The target areas currently being considered by government are:

  • biodiversity
  • water
  • waste
  • air quality.

It is possible that other targets may be considered for:

  • soil health
  • improving tree cover in England.

A target for increasing tree cover in concert with a biodiversity target could contribute to both climate change and nature recovery goals.

While a tree cover measuring target would be welcomed, it would need to:

  • determine what level of cover the target is
  • determine what type of trees it will focus on
  • determine where these trees should go.

Members were informed that all trees are not equal when it comes to these targets and so it may be useful to have a sub-target around native woodland within these targets and to consider within this the role of landscape trees alongside agroforestry and wood pasture. The Woodland Trust are keen to see a target produced to link up ancient woodlands.

There is expected to be an 8-week consultation produced on what targets there will be and what they should be. This may start as early as February or early March with a final legal target being introduced by Statutory Instruments in October.

Some members raised concerns about the need to balance food production and tree cover whilst avoiding the squabbling over tree targets that resulted at the 2019 General Election where each manifesto tried to outcompete the other. Other members highlighted that there are large areas of low quality and low productivity farmland, particularly depleted sheep farms in Cumbria, that could provide, for simple incentives, land for woodland and commercial forestry expansion.

It was noted that a new land use committee is being introduced in the House of Lords by Baroness Young of Old Scone to look at the different uses that need to be accommodated across the country. Its work would provide insight in this discussion.

AOB

Dr Moorcroft (Woodland Trust) spoke to the APPG about the important steps the Woodland Trust has recently taken to eliminate the use of plastic tree guards in new planting operations on the Woodland Trust’s estate. Alternative solutions are being introduced including removal of tree guards altogether where measures to reduce predatory pressures on young trees are in place. It was noted that these alternative solutions could provide new lessons to be built into government bodies to guide the sector on non-plastic alternatives.

The latest intelligence suggests that the Northern Research Group (NRG) anticipate the release of the Levelling Up White Paper by the end of January or else in early February. It is believed it should see a good mention of nature and trees.

It was highlighted to members that the EFRA Committee report, following their inquiry into Woodlands and Tree Planting, would likely be published by the end of February 2022 given the current focus of the Committee on scrutinising the Australian free trade deal.

Points were made that opportunities are available for woods and trees within successful levelling up bids, particularly in North Wales and likely elsewhere across the country and these should be explored by interested parties. A request was also made to look at the commercial aspects of growing trees at a future meeting. The Chair agreed it should be on the next agenda.

The meeting was brought to a close by the Chair at 3:45pm.