Moving soon – come join us

WT websiteWe’re moving from WordPress soon

Soon we will be blogging exclusively on the new Woodland Trust website. Woodland Matters will remain live but will no longer be updated or maintained.

Why are we moving?

We want to offer a more personalised experience for you, our wonderful readers. You will still be able to follow your favourite blogs and authors, but will also be able to create your own ‘scrap book’ of favourite content (including publications and citizen science news). You can still join in the conversation too, of course! Plus, our new website has the most up-to-date woodland news and conservation views from across the Trust, and the many ways that people can get involved in protecting, restoring and creating UK woods and trees – like taking part in our campaigns or applying for free community tree packs.

We’d like to say a big thank you to all of our subscribers and readers for joining us on our blogging journey over the last four years. The enthusiasm and comments we’ve received from you have been stimulating and thought provoking, and the blog has really evolved over time.

We hope you will join us in our new blogging home where we will continue to discuss the matters important to us and you. Once we are fully moved over we will let you know how you can sign up and follow us (Woodland Matters will continue in the interim).

Beautiful Appleton Jan,Feb 08 - Steven Highfield WTPL thanks

Posted in Campaigning, Conservation, Government Affairs | 8 Comments

Woods, trees and the party conference season: final instalment

The curtain came down on the Woodland Trust’s programme of party conference fringes with a lively event at the Lib Dem conference in Glasgow.

Despite plenty of other fringes taking place at the same time and fewer delegates to go round than the other conferences we were fortunate enough to obtain a strong panel and a good audience attendance.

Chaired by the Woodland Trust’s Scottish public affairs manager, Charles Dundas, the event was something of a celebration of the ability of trees to deliver across a range of agendas – economic and social, as well as environmental.

We were very pleased to be joined by the Scottish Secretary, the Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael MP and the Rt Hon John Thurso MP, chair of the Commons Finance and Services committee and member of the Treasury select committee.

The Forestry Minister, Dan Rogerson, followed some humorous references to Gladstone and Robin Hood by talking about the potential of trees and woods to deliver benefits for all and referred to the importance of new planting. Encouragingly, he talked about possible commitments in the next Lib Dem manifesto.

Roger Williams MP, chair of the Lib Dem’s backbench environment committee and member of the EFRA select committee built on his remarks at the launch of our call for a Charter in June. He spoke of the importance of woodland management skills to the rural economy and how, on his journey up to Glasgow from Wales he could see out of the window plenty of locations where well-targeted woodland creation could deliver benefits.  He spoke warmly about the work of the Woodland Trust and said he hoped to see our main points reflected in the manifesto.

Lord Purvis of Tweed, one of the designers of ‘devo-max’ spoke eloquently about woodland culture in the Borders, quoting at one point from Walter Scott on Ettrick Forest. Lord Purvis went onto talk about the role of trees as a policy tool and their importance to the woodland economy.

The economic importance of woods and trees was well addressed by Stuart Goodall, Chief Executive of ConFor. Stuart spoke about the close working relationship between ConFor and the Woodland Trust, founded on a shared belief in the multi-purpose benefits of woods. He went on to talk about the great potential of wood to contribute to the house-building agenda; such a strong feature of the fringes this party conference season.

Cllr Heather Kidd, deputy chair of the Local Government Association’s People and Places board, gave an excellent local perspective. After highlighting the considerable contribution of local government to making the Trust’s Jubilee Woods project a success, she paid tribute to the tireless work of the ‘Treehunter’, Rob McBride, who is from her home county of Shropshire. Heather went onto make some thought-provoking points about fines for developers often being insufficient to deter illegal felling, and suggested that the devolving of more powers to Local Authorities to increase fines should be looked at.

Other questions covered HS2, excessive paperwork for woodland managers and those seeking to create new woods and the role of trees in social housing.

The event was a strong one to close our conference season programme and it was good to have a focus on the economic and social as well as environmental importance of woods and trees. The Trust’s work on highlighting the role of trees in flood alleviation was also highlighted in the main hall debate on climate change adaptation on Monday morning – making for an encouraging morning after follow up and demonstrating that the voices of the Trust and its supporters is being heard.

The Trust’s call for a Charter and our manifesto asks seek to engage and challenge all the parties. As a charity, we don’t engage in party politics and have no intention of influencing people how to vote. This has been a stimulating – if tiring – few weeks exploring the place for woods and trees in the main political traditions, and we have been extremely heartened by the response we have received across the board. Translating the warm words into policy commitments is the next step – my blogs will return to that theme over the coming weeks.

Dr James Cooper, head of Government Affairs

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When we met Gatwick’s second runway team

On Monday, my colleague Kaye and I met with Gatwick’s second runway project team to ensure they fully understand the value of the ancient woodland at risk around Gatwick.

We requested a face-to-face meeting because of the concerns we have about Gatwick’s report on their recent consultation. We’d initially suggested a meeting in an ancient wood, which was politely but firmly rejected. We often find that a site visit in a local ancient woodland is a good place to meet decision-makers, especially in a case such as this where we would be able to discuss the issues that we have regarding ancient woodland in a real life context, without distractions. It would also help us to be able to illustrate many points that we would like to make about ancient woodland. Still, there are other battles to win here and the most important objective was to meet, so off we headed to the airport.

The proposals for a new runway that Gatwick have submitted to the Airports Commission will destroy over 8ha of ancient woodland and we’re keen to discuss avoiding this. We wanted to clarify some of the language Gatwick uses in the current proposals, such as mitigation, offsetting and ‘relocating’ woodland. We also went to hand over the comments our supporters made to the formal consultation in May, as we have been very concerned they had not been accepted.

The second runway project team is led by Alastair McDermid who made it very clear that Gatwick recognises AW is irreplaceable, and that they accept the Trust will object to plans which involve loss of ancient woodland. Gatwick is fortunate enough to be surrounded by ancient woods, so it’s hard for the team to see how ancient woodland might be avoided if a second runway is recommended by the Airports Commission, which is advising the Government on the UK’s airport capacity.

Obviously, this wasn’t music to our ears but at least they were being honest. And it’s too soon to talk about compensation plans yet! But like HS2 proposals, Gatwick’s proposals to compensate for loss currently fall short of draft biodiversity offsetting guidance. IF loss is indeed unavoidable, the highest possible ratio of planting should be undertaken – which is 30:1. Gatwick needs to reconsider the 3:1 they are currently committed to, and also take on board ‘conservation covenants’ suggested by the Law Commission as a tool to achieve best long-term management practice.

For our part, we learnt that Gatwick have already identified some steps to avoid environmental damage, such as re-routing a large sweep of road around the eastern boundary, and that such national infrastructure projects are subject to a raft of environmental constraints and demands. We will work to ensure changes to the current plans are made to limit the amount of woodland at risk.

We had been outraged by the apparent dismissal of thousands of comments by Trust supporters about their proposals, so much so that we took along all your comments plus the selfies we’d been sent by many of our supporters in a hefty tome, and handed it to them personally, to ensure they fully understood your individual concerns. And we are delighted that Gatwick stressed they hadn’t intended to dismiss these, and implied guidance from Ipsos MORI (who conducted the consultation) is to collate responses with similar messages that have been obviously facilitated through campaigns like ours.

They will go against this advice now and accept the additional comments as individual submissions. Also Kaye wont be letting Ipsos MORI get away with this type of guidance! We are pursuing a meeting with them to ensure they acknowledge that when people take part through organisations such as the Woodland Trust, they are still making an individual submission.

While we remain disappointed that Gatwick’s current plans can’t solve the problem ancient woodland faces, Gatwick stresses that their proposals (including road alignment and compensation arrangements) are very much at an initial stage, and have agreed to a further meeting during the next consultation phase of the Airports Commission, expected between November 2014 and February 2015. We’re glad the concerns of the Trust and supporters have not been ignored, but we expect to see substantial improvements to Gatwick’s proposals if they go forward.

Richard Barnes, Senior Conservation Adviser

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Woods, trees and the party conference season: Part Deux

Following on from last week’s lively discussion at the Labour conference the Woodland Trust hosted a very successful fringe on Sunday in Birmingham at the Conservative conference.

The Trust is seeking to build political momentum behind our call for a new Charter for trees, woods and people. A key way of doing so is by exploring at the main party conferences what woods and trees mean within each of the main political traditions. We have a similar fringe event next week, where we will discuss the same with the Lib Dem party in Glasgow.

As a conservation charity, the Woodland Trust has no intention to try and influence how voters act next May but we are determined – like others holding fringe events – to ensure that all political parties get to hear about the things we and our supporters care about as they prepare their manifestos ahead of the next election.

We were delighted by the full house for Sunday’s event and a strong panel made for a lively debate.

It was superbly chaired once again by Clive Anderson, President of the Woodland Trust. Other speakers were: Austin Brady, the Trust’s Director of Conservation and External Affairs; Katherine Drayson of the think tank, Policy Exchange; Stanley Johnson; Cllr Neil Clarke, leader of Rushcliffe Council and George Eustice Defra Under- Secretary of State.

Clive began by referring to trees as ‘both everyday and magical’. Austin Brady set out the case for a Charter and the Trust’s manifesto asks. Austin went onto to speak of how as a society we have lost our sense of stewardship and that given the place of that theme in Conservative philosophy they ought to be acting on this in relation to woods and trees.

Katherine Drayson spoke of the importance of addressing inequality of access to woodland, the need for long term management and the availability of good, accessible data on green spaces.

Stanley Johnson thoroughly lived up to our hopes of him as a speaker – being both outspoken and entertaining. He referred to the impact on ancient woodland of HS2 as ‘a scandal’. Stanley went on to call for the bringing forward of a Bill on the public forest estate and the securing of international action on forest loss.

George Eustice spoke of his agreement with the well-being benefits of woods as set out in ‘Life’s better with trees’. These included, he added, protection from gale damage in his Cornish constituency!

On the Public Forest Estate he said that the Government was committed to taking forward a Bill but was keen to take time and get it right. Not a few people would take the view that this is long overdue, including plenty in the room.

Cllr Neil Clarke spoke of the role of woods and trees in delivering on local governments growing range of responsibilities. In particular he stressed the importance of good planning policy in helping to protect ancient woodland. He also printed out that the Planning Inspectorate can be part of the problem when it comes to securing protection – overturning decisions where the local authority has tried to do the right thing.

We were very pleased that Jo Johnson, Head of the Downing Street Policy unit and Conservative manifesto co-ordinator was able to attend for a while and hope that he and his counterparts in the other parties will find plenty of material in the second part of Life’s better with trees.

A lively Q and A followed covering a range of themes. Austin Brady highlighted the need for a public debate on the Government’s ‘ten guiding principles’ for the public forest estate. There was also a strong consensus in the room that there is too great a contrast between protection for historic buildings and that which exists for ancient woods and trees. Neil Clarke spoke of how we need to return to the concept of ‘noble trees’. But the final word should perhaps go to Stanley Johnson who had been so quotable throughout the discussion. He said that in his many years as an environmental campaigner he had learned that you win the occasional environmental battle but it’s incredibly hard to win the war – “you have to raise the temperature“, he said.

We hope that our call for a Charter will do exactly that when it comes to putting woods and trees higher up the agenda where they belong.

You can follow me using ‘My Scrapbook’ to get the latest updates as conference season continues.

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Woods, trees and the party conference season: Part 1…

‘Life’s better together with trees’, quipped Clive Anderson, President of the Woodland Trust, as he formally opened the first of the Trust’s party conference season fringe events.

He was speaking in the Midland Hotel in Manchester, next to the main conference centre where many organisations held fringe meetings during the Labour Party Conference. Following on from the launch of our call for a Charter for trees, woods and people at the House of Commons in June, the Trust is discussing what our call for a Charter and associated manifesto asks mean within each of the three main political traditions; we have similar fringe events this week in Birmingham and next week in Glasgow where we will discuss the same with the Conservative and Lib Dem parties.

As a conservation charity, the Woodland Trust has no intention to try and influence how voters act next May but we are determined – like others holding fringe events – to ensure that all political parties get to hear about the things we and our supporters care about as they prepare their manifestos ahead of the next election.

We were delighted at the standard of debate in Manchester which got our conference season programme under way.

Our CEO, Beccy Speight, set out the case for a new Charter: the range of challenges facing woods and trees, and the need to ensure everyone – whoever they are, wherever they live – can benefit from trees.

Barry Gardiner, Shadow environment minister, spoke eloquently about how “it is difficult to conceive of a landscape feature more important than a tree”. He went onto describe Labour’s ambitions to ensure that biodiversity and access take their proper place in the priorities of the Public Forest Estate. He also indicated that building on the success of the National Forest would be a key priority for woodland creation policy. He also talked about the need to protect the landscapes which deliver ecosystem services.

Joan Walley chair of the Commons Environmental Audit committee spoke of how trees were “a physical symbol” of long-term strategic planning. She also spoke of how in policy terms, they suffer from lack of synchronicity with political cycles. Joan’s drawing attention to the public health importance of trees was much appreciated and stimulated valuable extra debate.

Anthea Sully, former leader of the Labour group on Peterborough Council, brought the increasingly important local perspective and spoke of the ‘cradle to grave’ importance of trees in people’s lives and their role in creating communities where people can thrive.

All in all, a strong start to conference season. However, with all parties, the real test will come in setting out and implementing policy!

You can follow me on our new website using ‘My Scrapbook’ to get the latest updates as conference season continues.

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Fingers in ears

(When consultation doesn’t tell you what you wanted to hear.)

The news this week that a developer has been accused of hiding ‘embarrassing opposition’ to their plans was met with a yawn at Woodland Trust HQ (before we got really annoyed, but more on that in a moment). This is just another good example of an issue we face a lot: when consultation is not really consultation, but tokenism.

Wikipedia defines public consultation as;

a regulatory process by which the public’s input on matters affecting them is sought. Its main goals are in improving the efficiency, transparency and public involvement in large-scale projects or laws and policies.”

What’s supposed to happen next is the results of your consultation inform your final plans. Sometimes though, the responses you receive don’t always match what you wanted to hear. And there can be many. When this happens, it seems a default reaction is to attempt to underplay the value of these responses by lumping them into one.

This is often seen when a number of responses that are received say the same thing (for example a petition), or express similar concerns (for example emails generated by a campaign), or when a lot of responses come via a single route (for example when facilitated through an organisation). In a similar vein some MPs, government departments and various local planning authorities have also been known to question the validity of what they call ‘mass emails’ and petitions.

The consulting body in this case, Gatwick’s fund manager owner Global Infrastructure Partners, has produced a report on its consultation results. It describes the 4,092 responses which the Trust facilitated to its consultation on the three options put forward for a new runway as ‘an organised campaign’, in an apparent attempt to understate both the volume of responses (53% of all the responses GIP received) and the result – a resounding ‘no’ to a new runway, on the basis of ancient woodland loss.

Unfortunately this report also includes several fundamental misunderstandings about ancient woodland ecology and management. We’ll expand on this in another post. GIP also ignores the fact that many of these (1,058 to be exact) took the time to add further, personal comments on the plans. This is possibly what’s annoyed us the most. Ancient woodland, like the rest of the natural world, can’t speak up for itself. Not all of these people are Woodland Trust members, as GIP have assumed, but they do all have one thing in common with the Trust; a belief that ancient woodland is an irreplaceable natural resource that needs to be given proper consideration in planning proposals.

All this is important, because the report will be given to the Airports Commision which will use it as part of its recommendations for aviation expansion next year. It should be accurate.

If the public response you receive doesn’t reflect what you really wanted it to say, then man up – don’t hide it. And if you didn’t really want to know, why ask?

For the record, we will be making doubly sure that GIP takes heed of what those 4,000+ people said about the plans for a second runway, if we have to hand them in to their offices ourselves!

Why do you take part in consultations through campaigns like ours? We’d love to know your views:

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One step closer: the fight to save Bluebell Wood

We are delighted to hear that an application to bulldoze ancient Bluebell Wood in Maidstone, Kent, has been refused. The plans put forward by developer Croudace were to build 500 homes adjacent to Bluebell Wood with associated access routes, but on 3rd July 2014 Maidstone Councillors voted unanimously to reject the proposals and save this precious wood. It is the right decision and we are really pleased to see decision-makers in Maidstone listening to local people and acknowledging the value of ancient woodland.

Bluebell Wood has a reprieve, for now

Bluebell Wood – granted a (temporary) reprieve

When the local community originally contacted us back in spring 2013 we were horrified – here were proposals to destroy yet more ancient woodland in Maidstone only a matter of months after 32 hectares of ancient woodland at neighbouring Oaken Wood were sentenced to be demolished. In a precedent-setting case of national significance, we saw ‘economic benefit’ triumph over ecological value at Oaken. For anyone concerned about the conservation of ancient woodland that decision was bad news. The outlook for Bluebell Wood based on this recent history was bleak.

Historical mapping suggests that Bluebell Wood once formed part of a wider body of woodland stretching across the area, providing an important corridor for wildlife. Now, although fragmented, it remains a living history, cherished by the local community and depended on by many surviving animals and plants including the spring time carpet of bluebells which gave the wood its name.

We’ve had quite a discussion here at the Trust about why we can’t call this excellent result a ‘success’. As our campaigner Katharine explains;

The decision is a step in the right direction by a forward-thinking council, and they should be commended for considering the value of this ancient wood and listening to the community. But a developer has the right to appeal a planning decision for six months after the decision has been made. Croudace has said it will appeal, which means the Council is going to be continuing the fight along with the community and the Trust will maintain our objection to the application and will submit further comments to the appeal.

Because of the right to appeal, the Trust never records a wood under threat as ‘saved’ on our database until that all important six months has gone by with no further activity; with this case now going to appeal it will be a while before we can say Bluebell Wood is truly ‘safe’ – and that’s assuming the developer’s appeal isn’t upheld for some reason. Plus, we understand from the local group that Croudace intends to submit two further applications for the same site while this appeal goes through, so it really is an ongoing battle.

Well done to everyone for all the hard work that has already gone in to protecting Bluebell Wood! We will continue to work with New Allington Action Group (NAAG) which has campaigned tirelessly so far. Diana from NAAG has this inspiring message to other campaigners fighting to save the woods and trees they care about:

“…Never give up, keep digging, nag local Councils for support, lobby as many as possible, become a pain and raise public awareness, through various ways, including ‘Road shows’, local papers, posters, leaflets, newsletters, website, Facebook, protests, demonstrations. Keep the story active and alive with regular posts to keep in people’s minds.”

You can find out more about NAAG’s campaign and how you can help: sign up to newsletters on their website

We’re not out of the woods just yet in Kent, but our branches and twigs are crossed that with your help and a little campaigning perseverance, this appeal will not succeed.

In reality, we find that an ancient wood under threat (even a wood with SSSI status, as we are seeing now with the ancient woods affected by HS2) can’t ever be considered ‘safe’ because of the loopholes in the National Planning Policy Framework. Despite the importance of ancient woodland, threats from proposals such as these at Bluebell Wood are relentless. Some developers keep submitting proposals over and over; others deny or challenge the ancient status of the woodland; others simply go ahead, submitting retrospective applications once the wood has been destroyed.

Together we can see better protection for all the UK’s precious ancient woodland – you can help by taking action in our campaign: “enough is enough…“.

Matina Loizou, Assistant Campaigner

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Sounds of Summer…

Two things struck me as I went for my usual evening walk last night. Firstly, and metaphorically, I was struck by the feeling that we are now in ‘deep summer’ as heralded by the murmuring of the combine harvester that was gliding round the next field. Secondly, and literally, I was also struck by a light ‘rain’ of early falling beech mast from the huge beech trees near my house – the seed husks opening, drying and crackling as they fell in the still warm evening sun.

Such a gentle assault on the senses, both familiar and reassuring, prompted a sense of wellbeing, of continuity, of all being right with the world … creating a reflective mood approaching what inevitably represents the quiet ‘holiday month’ of August.

The sense of hustle and bustle around our major campaign to secure better protection for our ancient woodland feels to be levelling off for the summer. Not because it’s over, but because a bit of reflection and taking stock will be useful. It won’t be long before things crank up again, buoyed up by that post-holiday boost, returning refreshed, inspired and re-invigorated. The other side of summer (no reference to Elvis Costello intended) may well see a fairly rapid descent into the ‘phoney war’ of the political party conference season and manifesto-fest, as we move towards the end of our first fixed term parliament and into the business end of the election campaign.

Early forays into manifestos have started to emerge, notably with a piece in the Guardian about the Lib Dems’ approach to the environment. Reassuringly, this includes clear reference to areas we had highlighted in earlier media campaigns and at our recent Parliamentary Reception, one that all of the main parties attended. Some of our concerns are clearly having an impact, but there is much still to do.

The impact of our Enough is Enough campaign to date has already secured us an on-going high level dialogue with Natural England. We continue to engage with them directly over key concerns on the Ancient Woodland Inventory, poor data on ancient woodland loss and the slow pace of their woodland SSSI programme.

Unfortunately, our lively one-to-one dialogue with Owen Paterson as Secretary of State for the Environment was recently curtailed by his departure from the role. So the unresolved big issues around biodiversity offsetting, poor protection for ancient woodland and ‘loopholes’ in the planning system need to be brought back to his successor, Elizabeth Truss.

But we can at least enjoy some of the glow of ‘deep summer’ reflecting on the success of our campaign to secure publication of Natural England’s much delayed revision of its advice to planning authorities dealing with applications to develop on ancient woodland. Its Standing Advice for Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees is now out in the full glare of daylight, at last. But that’s just the start, as now we are working to promote awareness of this valuable Advice, and promote its uptake and use by planning authorities across the country.

So, post-holiday, post-reshuffle, post-recess, and post-summer: how will our conversation with Liz Truss go? It will very much build on the job that we know still needs to be done to secure the special relationship between trees, woods and people that society values.
There is a growing awareness (inside and outside government) of the need to better protect our irreplaceable ancient woodland from losses to development, and to pests and diseases. To fully secure the future of the UK’s woodland requires a combined approach of protecting the irreplaceable, restoring that which is damaged and degraded, and adding new and diverse woods to our depleted landscapes.

This is the approach that we will continue to champion when meeting representatives of all the parties in our mission to create more resilient landscapes for nature and for people.

Posted in Austin's blog, Campaigning, Climate Change, Government Affairs | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments