Yesterday the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee published its recommendations for the Forestry Bill. As discussed previously, the Woodland Trust and RSPB NI have been working in partnership and pushed for the legislation to recognise the wider social and environmental benefits of woodland, for the creation and maintenance of a woodland inventory, and for ancient and long-established woodland to be afforded additional protection.
Thankfully the Committee’s report has taken onboard many of our concerns. They recommend that the Bill be rewritten to enable Forest Service – the agency charged with implementing the legislation and forestry policy – to take advantage of the opportunities to mitigate climate change, protect biodiversity and promote recreation. Forest Service will also be charged with producing a forward work programme that will make forestry targets, such as doubling woodland cover, cross cutting inside government with other Departments in the NI Executive, and outside with stakeholders like the Trust.
We are also pleased to see that the Committee and Forest Service have agreed to bring forward a duty to produce and maintain a woodland inventory. Producing an inventory is essential as it will provide a baseline against which performance can be judged, whilst also allowing for a targeted approach to new woodland creation.
NI has lost 273 ancient woods since the 1960s. Given the need to protect ancient woods, it is welcome that the Committee has called for the Bill to include a reference to the ‘desirability’ of protecting ancient woodland. At last ancient woodland will have some form of recognition in legislation, and we hope that this will translate into better protection on the ground.
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