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.