The petition of residents of the constituency of Coventry South,
Declares that Piles Coppice Wood is a valuable remnant of ancient woodland that is home to rare and beautiful wildlife and vegetation; and notes residents’ fear that Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s plans would damage the woodland.
The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Government to preserve this ancient woodland and protect our natural environment.
And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Zarah Sultana, Official Report, 17 December 2020; Vol. 686, c. 494 .]
Observations from the Minister of State (Minister for Pacific and the Environment), (Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park):
I would like to thank the hon. Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) and the petitioners for bringing to my attention the management of the ancient woodland Piles Coppice Wood in Warwickshire.
The Government support the preservation of Piles Coppice Wood by reducing the risk of its decline through careful management. The Forestry Commission is already engaging with Warwickshire Wildlife Trust and will provide advice and support on their management, including any necessary tree felling within this valuable woodland.
Active woodland management is essential for the preservation of ancient woodland, conserving and enhancing biodiversity and increasing the resilience of the woodland by improving its structure and species diversity. The Government support well planned woodland management to improve the condition and resilience of woodlands in line with the UK Forestry Standard, which sets out the Government’s approach to sustainable forestry and woodland management, including standards and requirements, regulations and monitoring, and reporting.
Our native and ancient woodlands are subject to a wide range of pressures, and many are slowly declining. This is exacerbated by the lack of management due to declining economic viability. Our ancient woodlands are one of our oldest land uses and most diverse ecosystems. They have often taken hundreds if not thousands of years to develop, and are irreplaceable. These woodlands have been managed for centuries and the wildlife communities that survive within them have developed in tune with these historic management regimes. We need approaches that sustain the best features of the woodland, and are adapted to current and future needs.
Active management maximises the benefits we get from woodland and prevents their long-term decline, for example due to pests and diseases. More active management could help them make a bigger contribution to our quality of life and our carbon balance, whilst at the same time protecting and enhancing the environment and our heritage. If we leave native woodland unmanaged, the amount of carbon being stored by English forests will decline because of the over mature age structure that is created. This can be reversed in time by regenerating the woodland and by enhanced woodland creation.
Ancient woodlands are of great importance for wildlife, cultural, economic and historic value. The Government are committed to ensuring ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees are adequately protected and managed to provide a wide range of social, environmental and economic benefits to society. The Forestry Commission provides a range of support to woodland managers to improve the condition and resilience of their woodlands to stem the slow decline.
The Government have also strengthened the protection of ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the supporting National Planning Practice Guidance. The NPPF now recognises ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees as irreplaceable habitats and aligns the planning system more closely with DEFRA’s 25-year environment plan, which aims to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.
The Government have long recognised public concern over tree felling and any impacts on woodlands, including ancient woodlands. The Forestry Commission is responsible for the licensing of sustainable tree felling across England. In respect of ancient trees, its decisions are underpinned by the Keepers of Time (2005), a statement that sets out the Government policy on ancient and native woodland, and the UK Forestry Standard, which sets out our approach to sustainable forestry. The Forestry Commission works hard to ensure that illegal felling is discouraged and illegally felled woodland is restocked, taking appropriate enforcement action when necessary. We are taking further measures through the Environment Bill to give the Forestry Commission more powers to tackle illegal tree felling, further strengthening the protection of all wooded landscapes, including ancient trees.
We are aiming to publish a new England Tree Strategy in Spring. This will set out plans and policies to increase tree planting, as well as protecting and improving existing woodlands, including ancient woodland. This includes plans for deployment of the £640 million Nature for Climate Fund. In advance of that we launched a £80 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund, the first round of which is supporting a £3.86 million project by the Woodland Trust and National Trust to undertake vital ancient woodland restoration through active management across 600 hectares of their estates.
I thank the hon. Member once again for taking the time to raise this important issue.