We have set out our commitment to protecting, improving and expanding England’s forestry assets. This includes establishing a new body to run the public forest estate, maintaining a core of forestry expertise in government and supporting the forestry sector to improve its economic performance. We are also giving greater priority to plant health and we look forward to receiving the final report of the tree health and plant biosecurity taskforce later this month.
The Forestry Commission owns a considerable amount of land in and around my constituency, including on Cannock Chase and Highgate common. What action are the Government taking, along with the Forestry Commission, to work more closely with voluntary organisations such as the Staffordshire wildlife trust to improve not only access, but the wildlife management of these important local beauty spots?
The hon. Gentleman has absolutely hit the nail on the head. That is exactly what we set out in the forestry and woodlands policy statement. We made it clear that we want the new public forest estate management organisation to work closely with local communities to improve the delivery of public benefits such as access, recreation and biodiversity. The Forestry Commission is already taking that commitment forward by developing a new package of community engagement measures.
The Forestry Commission’s strategy stated clearly that recent outbreaks of tree health problems, such as oak processionary moth, underline the need to maintain an experienced team of pathologists and entomologists capable of carrying out both strategic research and “fire brigade” investigations of new problems. Will the Minister therefore rule out any new cuts to DEFRA and its agencies in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review, particularly as that would endanger the future survival of our country’s trees and forests?
It is desperately important that we not only keep together the cadre of experts we have, but expand it. There is a need to recruit new expert entomologists, for instance. The hon. Lady mentions oak processionary moth, which is a significant problem, but there are many other potential diseases and pests that we need to be aware of. I am absolutely clear that we need to retain that centre of expertise in the Department. That is exactly what the tree health and plant biosecurity taskforce is looking at. It is not for me to pre-empt what the spending review might say, but it is certainly our intent to ensure that we protect essential services to protect tree health.