Although I was unable to attend February’s All Party Parliamentary Group for Woods & Trees, I am keenly aware of the work it does to advance the protection, restoration and expansion of our trees and woodlands in the UK. As a Government Minister, I am also unable to be a member of any APPGs.
The protection of our incredible woodlands is of huge importance to us here in Sussex and I will continue to support this issue as strongly as I did when I secured assurances that there would be increased protections for ancient woodlands back in 2017. I believe, as I always have, that greater respect should be given to these habitats so that we can hand on our precious green spaces to future generations.
As well as being wonderful spaces in themselves, with hugely beneficial impacts on our mental and physical health, trees protect us against flooding, provide habitats for our precious wildlife and are carbon capture machines. They are an important source of jobs, directly employing over 30,000 people and contributing more than £2 billion to our economy every year. In the face of climate change and the growing prevalence of pests and diseases, it is essential that we plant more trees and build their resilience while increasing protection of our existing, precious woodlands.
I am aware that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, in collaboration with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is reviewing ancient woodlands and the protection for ancient and veteran trees in the National Planning Policy Framework. I understand that, currently, development can only adversely impact ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees if there are “wholly exceptional reasons, and a suitable compensation strategy exists.”
As part of this review, the Government will carefully consider the options for further protecting these important habitats through the planning system.
Regarding woodland creation, I understand that over £44 million of funding is being provided to support establishing larger and more diverse woodlands which will be more resilient to climate change and extreme weather events, such as wildfires and storms. Around 2,300 hectares of trees will be planted which will see approximately 600,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide absorbed by 2050.
This target is key for the UK’s Net Zero Strategy and the Government is spending more than £750 million by 2024-25 through the Nature for Climate Fund to help meet the commitment to increase tree planting, with the aim of planting 30,000 hectares per year by May 2024. This is a significant challenge, but I am aware that considerable progress has been made with the Government having created or restored habitats the size of Dorset already.
The aim is, through a variety of projects and funds, to ensure the right trees are planted in the right places, that trees and woodlands are better protected, more green jobs are created in the forestry sector, new opportunities become available for local communities to get closer to nature and more places are created for nature and biodiversity to thrive. Please be assured, I will continue to monitor this important topic closely.
For more information, please visit England Trees Action Plan 2021 to 2024 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)