Thank you for contacting me about our ancient woodlands and the Environment Bill.
Not only do our ancient forests and wooded areas complement and enhance the unique character of the British countryside, they also provide vital resources for our wildlife. I want to assure you that I fully understand their importance and fully support that our ancient woodlands are strongly protected under the current National Planning Policy Framework. To curb the reduction of woodland areas, the Government also provides standing advice for local authority planners for when their proposals affect ancient woodland, ancient trees and veteran trees. As the majority of the proposals suggested in the Lord's Amendment you have highlighted are already covered under the National Planning Policy Framework and by the ancient woodland standing advice, I do not believe it is necessary.
Speaking with my colleagues at Defra, I have been assured however that cases will be kept under review where loss or deterioration of ancient woodland has been or is justified on the basis of “wholly exceptional” circumstances and ministers will encourage them to be brought to the attention of Defra at an early stage. Further, I welcome that guidance on what is considered wholly exceptional will be revised.
In addition to this, the government is resolute in its commitment to the England Trees Action Plan. As part of this plan, ministers will build on existing protections, including the introduction of a new category of long-established woodland (woodlands that have been around since 1840) and will consult on the protections they are afforded in the planning system. The new England woodland creation offer will also fund landowners to buffer and expand ancient woodland sites by planting native broad-leaf woodland, and ministers will update the Keepers of Time policy on the management of ancient woodland, veteran trees and other semi-natural woodland.
In a similar vein, the Secretary of State, George Eustice, and his ministerial colleagues have been in regular discussions with their counterparts in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) to explore further measures that can be included in the upcoming Planning Bill to build on existing protections. I know the new Secretary of State for DLUHC, Michael Gove, also shares our passion for ancient trees and their protection.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.