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Tree Planting

Volume 647: debated on Thursday 18 October 2018

The changes to the woodland carbon fund and the woodland creation planning grant that we successfully piloted in 2017 have been made permanent. We also recently made the countryside stewardship woodland creation grant available all year. In addition, we are providing £5.7 million to kick-start the northern forest, and we have appointed a national tree champion to drive forward our tree planting manifesto commitments.

Does the Minister welcome the work of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy programme, which is providing saplings to MPs across the country to plant in their constituencies?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his characteristically enthusiastic support for that project—we would expect nothing less for the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy initiative, which is truly excellent. I mention in particular the five saplings project, made possible by the work of the Woodland Trust, Sainsbury’s and ITV—the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) is also to be commended. Like my hon. Friend, I look forward to planting saplings in my constituency soon, in Macclesfield, and I am pleased that many other colleagues across the House will shortly be doing the same.

Trees are carbon sinks that lock in greenhouse gases while promoting biodiversity, so what steps is my hon. Friend taking to press forward with forestry investment zones for large-scale woodland creation?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question and his keen interest in the need to drive forward ambitious plans to plant more trees. He is a tree champion in his own right. Our national tree champion, Sir William Worsley, is launching the first forestry investment zone pilot in Cumbria today. That new project will help landowners to create vital new woodland and unlock the economic benefits of forestry in areas not traditionally used for tree planting. The project will also provide lessons on how best to support forestry investment.

I call Tom Tugendhat, who has Question 6. Where is the fella? He is not here. I hope he is not indisposed. I think it is more likely that the hon. Gentleman is planting a tree.

Trees play a vital role in upper catchment management, by preventing flooding. Environment Agency representatives said in a meeting last week that upper catchment management needs prioritisation. How is the Minister planning for that, and will he ensure that there is provision for it in the Budget?

I know that the hon. Lady has a keen interest in that issue. I will be working closely with the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), to take these activities forward.

I welcome the Minister’s response. On my land back home, we have planted some 3,500 trees over time, but the important thing is to have trees planted by young people. The Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland, led by Patrick Cregg, is running a scheme whereby every school will plant a tree. Has the Department had an opportunity to engage with the Woodland Trust and education providers to make that happen?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. We need to get young people connected with trees and the importance of woodland, and we are working closely with the Woodland Trust on exactly that initiative.

Given the huge importance of trees to our environment and our quality of life, does the Minister agree that we must ensure that the planning system protects protected trees and woodland wherever it can when new development is being considered?

Yes, that is really important. I think my right hon. Friend will also welcome our commitment to ensure that we will see 1 million more trees in our towns and cities. Trees play a vital role not just in the countryside and more generally but in our towns and close to urban areas.

Tree planting is important for ecological diversity and protecting vital habitats. Sites of special scientific interest protect the UK’s most important places for trees and wildlife, but a Greenpeace investigation has found that almost half of SSSIs have not been examined in the last six years, as required by national guidelines. Now that the Prime Minister has announced an end to austerity, what new resources will the Minister commit to, to reverse the alarming neglect and decline of habitats and species across the UK?

That is an important issue. Natural England is focusing carefully on the SSSIs that are most at risk and will ensure that those resources are targeted, for maximum impact in those vital areas.

If the Minister cannot commit to new resources for our habitats, what commitments can we expect in the Budget to restore our beloved local parks, which are so important to the environment, health and local communities? Will the Minister confirm how much funding the Government’s parks action group has been allocated and how many of the group’s recommendations he has delivered?

Clearly we will have to wait and see what comes up in the Budget on 29 October, but we are working closely with the parks Minister on that agenda.