Congratulations to the Major Oak

The Major Oak is the 2014 ‘Tree of the Year’ in England.

I was pleased to join our Head of Campaigning, Nikki Williams, on a visit to the Major Oak in its famous forest home. We presented staff from Sherwood Forest County Park with a certificate from the Trust, confirming the tree’s accolade.

Winner!  Woodland Trust Head of Campaigning, Nikki Williams, presents the award certificate to members of the Sherwood Forest Trust, who accept the 'Tree of the Year' accolade on behalf of the Major Oak. L-R:  Nikki Williams,

WINNER!!!
Woodland Trust head of campaigning, Nikki Williams, with staff from Sherwood Forest Country Park who accepted the ‘Tree of the Year’ accolade on behalf of the Major Oak.
L-R: Charleen Case, Jed Clampett, Adrian Grieve, Nikki Williams, Izi Banton

The Competition

Over the summer we asked for nominations for an individual tree with a story. It was hard to compile a shortlist of ten but once we had our list we asked the public to choose their favourite.

The response was fantastic! Nearly 13,000 people cast votes in just eight days and the competition received great coverage all over the press and on social media too. The Major Oak took nearly 20% of the vote. This wonderful ancient tree, synonymous with myth and legend, will now represent England in the next phase of the competition. It joins trees from 13 other European countries which could be crowned ‘European Tree of the Year’.

It was great to meet the staff, whose enthusiasm for the contest clearly matched the public’s. Over the past few months it has been heart-warming to see how much love there is for special, old trees and such a simple idea to choose a favourite has really captured everyone’s imagination.

Thanks to everyone who voted!

You can help our special trees

Our V.I.Trees campaign, in partnership with Country Living magazine, needs you…

We want to see a national register for Trees of Special Interest like the Major Oak. Trees like these are markers of history, living monuments. They deserve to be recognised and valued for the contribution they make to our culture and heritage – just as our listed buildings are.

We are asking the Environment Ministers in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to consider developing a register. They have all said they will progress the idea if we can prove it’s important to the public, too.

We hope that by raising awareness of the UK’s ancient and veteran trees through campaigns like these, we can ensure they have a secure future and will be enjoyed by future generations too. The love we’ve seen you demonstrate for your trees shows how valued they are – please show your support for a register of trees of national importance.

Chris Hickman, Press Officer

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Hit the Road Jack

The usual mixture of triumph, alarm and gnashing of teeth greeted the publication of the Government’s Roads Investment Strategy earlier this week. Strong reaction to the laying of an additional 1,300 miles of tarmac was heard from both sides, with the media’s focus naturally gravitated towards the potential impact on one of the world’s most iconic prehistoric monuments.

A volatile package 

The debate is far more extensive though, and indeed nuanced, than a simple ‘car driver versus environmental-and-archaeological-damage-at-Stonehenge’ conundrum. It involves a dilapidated strategic road network creaking under the weight of 21st Century demand, a booming population and significant advances in technology. Throw in a plethora of irreplaceable habitats, endangered species, greenbelt and air quality concerns and what the Government described as the “biggest investment in our road network since the 1970s” becomes a volatile package.

For well over a year as this road building package has begun to emerge, we have been lobbying the Department for Transport (DfT) on behalf of woods and trees. Our position is clear: irreplaceable habitats like ancient woodland should not fall victim to asphalt. Recently we joined forces with a wide array of environmental and transportation organisations, from National Express to the Ramblers, to press the DfT to examine alternative solutions, urging the Government to consider a green retrofit programme.

Many ancient woods run alongside the 127 road schemes announced. It is inconceivable all will survive the proposals.

Many ancient woods run alongside the 127 road schemes announced. It is inconceivable all will survive the proposals intact.

Progress

Some progress has been made. Not least, in that the Strategy requires the soon-to-be-established Strategic Highways Company (replacing the Highways Agency) to demonstrate how it will deliver ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity. Thanks to our pressure, supported by others, the Strategy goes further, with an aspiration of net biodiversity gain by 2040.

‘Green’ spending is also promised

Green spending is also promised. For retrofitting the existing network, £300 million has been earmarked. A further £100million is laid aside for air quality, and an Environment Fund has £300million allocated; this includes £100million for landscape and biodiversity. ’Landscape’ in this sense isn’t just about the natural environment but also our built heritage. We should also note that the ‘Environment Fund’ includes monies (£75m) for dealing with noise pollution like noise barriers and resurfacing. While welcome these figures are small drops in the overall £15 billion strategic roads ocean.

We know from experience that the “environmental protection” message only goes so far in development circles. As we go through the detail (often lacking) of the 127 schemes announced, we are seeing areas of ancient woods and trees directly in the path of the bulldozers. I’ll post more on these soon.

Over £15 billion is being spent to deliver the new Roads Investment Strategy. We are pushing for a green retrofit programme.

Over £15 billion is being spent to deliver the new Roads Investment Strategy. We are pushing for a green retrofit programme to limit the impact on our natural environment.

Our work continues and you can help 

These proposals need intelligent and careful thinking as they have the potential to cause enormous damage. So our work continues, to persuade all those in power to understand that once gone, our ancient woods really are gone forever. The Strategy itself is part of the Infrastructure Bill, something we are also working on.

We’re looking at the most effective way you can play your part, too. In the meantime, watch out for future blogs about how this Strategy progresses, the specific schemes and also about the changes to the Highways Agency, coming up and make sure you keep supporting our Enough is Enough campaign demanding greater protection for our ancient woods and trees.

Posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Conservation, England, Protection, Woods Under Threat, WoodWatch | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Fortingall Yew: fact and fiction

Growing up in the Big Tree Country, Killin at the head of Loch Tay in Perthshire, it was impossible not to be aware from a young age of the area’s amazing woodland heritage. As well as various climbing trees in my parent’s garden and around the village, there was the spooky hanging tree at Finlarig Castle and the giant sequoia at Auchmore, one of many planted by Queen Victoria on her Highland tour in 1842.

But the tree that really blew me away was the daddy of them all… the ancient Fortingall Yew, a short distance away at the other end of the loch.

The impressive Fortingall yew, snapped in 2011.  Image: Wikimedia Commons: Paul Hermans.

The impressive Fortingall yew, snapped in 2011.
Image: Wikimedia Commons: Paul Hermans.

I can remember being taken to visit the Yew by my parents and being staggered that anything could possibly be so big and so old and still be living. Over the years I learned lots of things about it that everyone knew to be true. That is was the oldest thing in the world, and that Pontius Pilate, the Roman judge, had grown up playing under its branches.

An incredible experience…

Recently I was offered the chance to be interviewed underneath the Yew for a programme called Hayman’s Way, which is following in the footsteps of Tom Weir’s long running series, which showcased Scotland’s natural and cultural heritage in the 1970s and 80s. It was a special privilege, as we had managed to secure access to the inside of a high wall that contains the trees, built in the nineteenth century to protect it from souvenir hunters and fire raisers.

Standing within the Yew is an incredible experience. It’s suffered from the ravages of old age and damage from people but its twisted and gnarly branches still speak of millennia of life. Its maximum girth, a massive 19 metres dwarfs its remains, but even in its degraded form the Yew still obviously huge, and even today it is still sending out new shoots of growth.

As the heartwood is long gone it’s impossible to say how old the Yew is by counting rings or carbon dating, but the best guesses place it at 2,000-3,000 years old. The eighteenth century botanist De Candolle was a pioneer in aging trees according to their size. He believed that yews grew one inch in diameter for every 25 years, and he produced on that basis an estimate of 2,700 years in 1769, which today would make it just shy of its 3,000th birthday.

Fact-busting and myth-making

Despite its great age, the Fortingall Yew is certainly not, as many claim, the oldest living thing in the world. The record breaker is a humble patch of seagrass in the Mediterranean which has been dates to staggering

Similarly the Yew isn’t the oldest tree in the world (a grove of aspen in Utah thought to be about 80,000 years old claims that title), or Europe (that’s an 8,000 year old bristlecone pine in Sweden), or even the UK (step forward the 5,000 year old yew at Defynnog).

That tale about Pontius Pilate? Well, if you consider that the Roman’s invaded Britain in 41 AD, and he is likely to have died in 37AD, then it’s not worth dwelling on for too long after that.

Some people even think it was placed to mark the exact centre of Scotland. But according to the Ordnance Survey, depending on whether you factor in Shetland to your calculation that’s either a few miles north on the flank of Schiehallion, or high on a loch side near Laggan in the Highlands.

And there’s one mystery which will probably never be resolved…

No one really knows for sure if the Fortingall Yew got there naturally, or if it was planted. While yew is a native species in Scotland its heartland in the UK is really in the south of England and Wales. That means it’s an unlikely tree to find in the wild, and maybe its longevity is owed to the fact that it was planted as an important religious symbol, and cared for all the more as a result.

If it was planted then it shows that 2,000 or more years ago that people were actively choosing and planting trees. If people brought crops to Britain for farming it is very likely they brought tree seeds after the Ice Age acorns, chestnuts, hazel and juniper provided for food and flavourings.

But whether the yew was planted or not, or if the tales about it are untrue, none of that really matters too much. The value of a legend isn’t in its truth, it’s whether it can move people and make them think, and the myths that are told about the Fortingall Yew just add to its incredible story.

Yew trees are associated with immortality and it’s hard to stand under the branches of the one in Fortingall and not think about the past. Here is a tree that is older than the churchyard it stands, and even Scotland, and which is a living link to a time when the pyramids were still being built. To me that will always be mind-blowing.

Trees like these need to be acknowledged as national treasures!

The Woodland Trust is calling for a National Register of Scotland’s trees of special interest, our nationally important trees, to celebrate them and ultimately offer them better protection. Please show your support today!

For me and I’m sure for many others, the very first tree on the list would be the ancient Fortingall Yew.

Rory Syme, PR and communications officer, Woodland Trust Scotland

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School Wood Saved!! (for the moment)

Nearly four hectares of ancient woodland in the Cairngorms National Park have been saved (Whoop – Whoop!)Scots Pine at Cairngorms

In May 2013 we were alerted to a planning application that could cause the direct loss of almost four hectares of ancient woodland. If it was approved, two areas of irreplaceable ancient woodland in School Wood near Nethy Bridge would be cleared to make way for 58 houses.

Nethy Bridge is surrounded by woodland, and unsurprisingly it’s a village that prides itself on its connection to nature. School Wood is a popular place for recreation and especially wildlife watching, as it provides a home to red squirrels, pine martens and green shield moss, all endangered woodland species. The wood has been subject to many planning applications over the years and local residents and conservation charities alike are always quick to come to its defence.

We’re glad to be able to report that our objection taken alongside others such as Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, Buglife Scotland and the Ancient Tree Forum led to the refusal of the latest planning application, meaning nearly four hectares of ancient woodland is safe, barring an appeal from the developer which must be made within six months.

To defeat this particular threat we had to fight two age old arguments. Namely:

Argument 1: The application implied that the wood isn’t ancient at all and therefore it was open to be cleared for development.
This is a tricky argument to have at times as Scotland’s Ancient Woodland Inventory is provisional and the data that was used to create it means it will remain this way for the foreseeable future.

However information from local ecologists provided us with confidence that the wood should be on the Inventory and Scottish Natural Heritage’s response to the application did not dispute its status.

Argument 2: If one area of ancient woodland is lost then this is a good thing as it means the remaining area of ancient woodland will be better managed.

At no time should this argument be used as a mitigation measure for ancient woodland, which is irreplaceable habitat. It can only be deemed to be compensation and should not be viewed in a positive light.

When it came to light that the wood was most likely an area of plantation on ancient woodland (PAWS), we provided a further response continuing our objection and pointing out that the Cairngorms National Park Forest and Woodland Framework states that one of the priorities for the Park is to:

“Protect all ancient and semi-natural woodlands from further damage and fragmentation and restore them all in plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS);”

But we do have concerns over a decision made to only exclude part of the planned development from the local plan. While a big positive result from the committee’s decision was to remove the northern part of the site from the local plan, giving it protection from future applications, the committee convenor indicated a clear desire to see the southern part of the wood at Craigmore Road developed “as soon as possible”, ignoring its special importance.

red squirrel at School Wood in the CairngormsThis part of the wood has high ecological valuable, for example containing more red squirrel drays than at School Road, so any new application in this area will be fiercely opposed, It’s possible that Scotland’s new environment minister Aileen McLeod MSP, who is species champion for red squirrel, may even take an interest.

Watch This Space…

This case was managed by Katharine Rist – Campaigner, Ancient Woodland and Rory Syme – PR & Communications Officer, Scotland

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Lords, Ladies and the Infrastructure Bill

This week the House of Lords ended its deliberations on the Infrastructure Bill – a curious mishmash of proposed legislation addressing everything from roads to non-native species and town and country planning, and plenty of concern to environmentalists. Having debated and amended the Bill in detail over the last 5 months, the Bill was passed by the House and now heads over to the Commons, where MPs will deliberate over the amended version over the course of the next few months. You can find the Bill, and accompanying Explanatory Notes, here.

The Public Forest Estate: disposal row re-visited?

Where woods and trees are concerned, the Lords have made a number of welcome changes to the Bill. The most important of these is a clarification that the clause allowing for transfer of so-called ‘surplus’ government-held land to the Homes and Communities Agency (for possible onward sell-off) will not apply to the Public Forest Estate. This commitment and clarifying amendment, which followed a recent Written Ministerial Statement from Housing and Planning Minister Brandon Lewis, is welcome. It reflects lobbying by the Woodland Trust and a whole range of groups to amend the Bill in this way.

However, and as Baroness Royall, the Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, articulated during Wednesday’s ‘Third Reading’ debate, such clarifications would not have been necessary had the Government not reneged on its promise to bring forward legislation for the PFE in a Forestry Bill in the first place. It’s clear that these clarifications are in no way a substitute for such a Bill, which we are lobbying all parties hard to bring forward as soon as possible after the election.

Quoting from a briefing from the Woodland Trust ahead of the debate, Baroness Royall told the House:

We hope that the Third Reading debate, any subsequent further amendment—and scrutiny in the Commons—will ensure that protection is as strong as possible. Whatever the outcome of the Bill’s passage, however, it has to be said that this is a row of the Government’s own making through not bringing forward a Forestry Bill as promised. Indeed, this assurance within the Infrastructure Bill cannot be deemed a substitute for the bringing forward of legislation for the Public Forest Estate; a specific Forestry Bill is still needed to settle the future of the PFE and for the avoidance of any future doubt or confusion as to its status. We want to see that legislation brought forward at the earliest opportunity after the election”.

Other welcome amendments to the Bill include a specification that the Highways Agency – which under the Bill will become a government-owned company tasked with managing and operating England’s motorway and strategic road network – will be obliged to “have regard to the effect of the exercise of” its functions on the environment. Likewise, the draft licence for this strategic highways company, as separate to the Bill itself, also now makes welcome reference to the environment, reflecting some of our further recent work at Whitehall – though there is still work to do on this.

Blog pic

 Martinshaw Wood, Leicester M1

So it’s fair to say that from the perspective of safeguarding the Public Forest Estate, and the environment more generally, the Infrastructure Bill has emerged from its progress through the House of Lords in better shape than when it first went in.

But it’s far from bells and roses. There remain some important issues with the Bill, which will now fall to MPs in the House of Commons to address.

Issues to watch

First of all, there are questions over the watchdog and the monitor that will be appointed to oversee the strategic highways company, such as how these will hold the body to account regarding any obligations towards the environment; the role of the Government in the running of the company and therefore of parliament and the public; and the role of local authorities, Network Rail and others to integrate the planning and management of local road networks, and associated concerns about the Government’s ability to lead a truly strategic transport policy that respects the natural environment.

We also have reservations about the Government’s commitment to the eradication and control of invasive non-native species (INNS), which are among the biggest global threats to biodiversity, as well as having serious negative consequences for ecosystem services, the economy and public health. The Infrastructure Bill sets out welcome proposed species control provisions, and the Lords made welcome amendments to the designation of species clauses, but here at the Woodland Trust we would like to see environmental authorities given sufficient funding to carry out these provisions at a time when many environmental authority budgets are already stretched.

Finally (for now), we also remain anxious to ensure that the proposed changes to the mainstream planning system within the Bill, concerning procedures associated with discharging planning conditions, are not carried out at the expense of the natural environment. You can read more of the detail about this issue here.

What next?

Now that the Bill has passed through the House of Lords, it now passes to the House of Commons, where MPs will begin by debating its principles at ‘Second Reading’ (in December or early January), commencing more detailed scrutiny at Committee Stage (late Jan), Report Stage, and finally a Third Reading (Feb?). Final amendments are then considered by both the Lords and the Commons (estimated to be in early March), before the Bill is presented for Royal Assent.

As the Bill enters its Commons phase we’ll be busy engaging MPs, particularly those on the Bill Committee, to ensure it – and also its accompanying documents – pays sufficient regard to the potential impact on our country’s precious woods and trees. Watch this space.

Lorraine Mullally – Lead Government Affairs Officer

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Is better protection for ancient woodland more than just a pipe dream?

The Woodland Trust has long championed better protection for the irreplaceable habitat of ancient woodland. It’s one of the core aims of our public advocacy work.

Ancient woodland is one of the few remaining living links to our ecological and archaeological past. It’s the richest, most valuable land habitat for wildlife that we still have, covering only about 2% of the land area, with unique ecosystems providing a home to hundreds of rare and vulnerable species. It can never be replanted, recreated or replaced.

Image: WTPL

Our current Enough is enough’ campaign reinforces the critical importance of protecting ancient woodland absolutely, with more than 450 ancient woods under threat across the UK at this very moment.

Despite resolute national campaigning over the years, ancient woodland still remains without the full protection it so desperately needs. National planning guidance, as set out in paragraph 118 of National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPF), continues to render ancient woodland a hostage to fortune by way of the ‘get out’ caveats attached to its protection wording. Natural England’s excellent Standing Advice should help, but the caveat in paragraph 118 is proving to be a real burr in ancient woodland’s side.

But maybe – just maybe – something is stirring in the dusty corridors of local authority planning policy. This year has seen the appearance of some unexpectedly helpful local policy wording.

Tucked away in Policy DM17 (Development involving Existing Green Infrastructure – Trees) of Bristol City Council’s adopted Site Allocations and Development Management Policies (July 2014) is the bald stand-alone sentence that “Development which would result in the loss of Ancient Woodland, Aged trees or Veteran trees will not be permitted”. No weasly qualification or caveat attached.

Stratford-on-Avon District Council’s proposed submission Core Strategy (June 2014) states in Policy CS.5 on Landscape that “Due to the quality of ancient semi-natural woodland and aged/veteran trees, particularly in the Forest of Arden, and their relative scarcity elsewhere in the District, no development will be permitted that would lead to their loss or damage”. Again, a stand-alone sentence with no apparent caveat.

Torridge District Council and North Devon Council have also weighed in with the statement in paragraph 12.59 of their Joint Local Plan publication draft (June 20214) that “Critical environmental assets such as ancient woodland and veteran trees cannot be relocated or replaced so must be retained and enhanced on site”. 

Finally Dudley Borough’s Development Strategy preferred options (July 2014) proposes a dedicated Policy S22 specifically for Mature Trees, Woodland and Ancient Woodland to read: Development which would adversely affect Ancient Woodland will not be permitted, and measures will be taken to restore these areas, and where appropriate, expand them with new complementary planting, particularly to encourage linked woodland areas”.

Whilst one swallow does not necessarily make a summer, when you get a flock of good policies, it’s a sign that welcome change could be coming. True, some of this new policy has yet to undergo the trauma of public examination but hope springs eternal in the undisturbed soils of ancient woodland that the wording will be duly confirmed.

Perhaps this flurry of local policy activity might now embolden other local authorities to provide their ancient woodland with the absolute protection for which the Woodland Trust, and its supporters, have campaigned for so long.

We therefore issue a challenge to all our readers – please check that your local ancient woodland sites are protected in your local council’s planning documents (Core Strategies, or Local Plans for example) too, with strong policy commitments like these! Let us know below, or contact us at campaigning@woodlandtrust.org.uk.

Justin Milward, Lead Government Affairs Officer

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Bees, Trees and Infrastructure: Having it all?

Walking into the ‘Ideas Space’ lecture area at Policy Exchange Think Tank to hear Liz Truss deliver her first set piece speech on the natural environment, it struck me that it really wasn’t that long since Owen Paterson had delivered his own speech, setting out his vision for the natural environment, in the same place. Something I blogged on around this time last year.

Tuesday’s speech showed, as you would expect, a good deal of continuity. Owen Paterson’s speech was themed around ‘having it all’ and Liz Truss began by talking about the need to move away from the environment being seen as about ‘having less’ but instead being about ‘having more.’ Her central thesis being the belief that environmental and economic progresses depend on one another.

Something that came through very strongly, as has been highlighted by various commentators – was the importance of science and evidence. Given the emphasis the Woodland Trust places upon this aspect of its work – not least through the ObservaTree and Nature’s Calendar projects, where we engage the public (another important theme of Ms Truss’ early remarks on where the environment agenda needs to go) – we hope that our work in this area will be a key resource in underpinning future government policy.

Readers of this blog will also be interested to know that trees featured as prominently as any theme. Indeed Ms Truss stated that ‘trees have a unique place in British history, landscape and culture’ and went on to refer to some of the finest examples – inspired hopefully by recent political interest in the Tree of the Year competition.

We’d like to see this lead to dialogue around our V.I.Trees campaign, which has seen the Woodland Trust and Country Living magazine come together to call for a register to classify, celebrate and protect the UK’s nationally important trees. Good dialogue is underway already in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but as yet there has been no response from Defra – despite it receiving by far the largest number of messages of support from the public.

The most coverage for the speech has focused upon the announcement of a new National Pollinator Strategy. This is certainly something to be welcomed, but the decline in bees and other pollinators is a sign of a much wider underlying problem. A whole range of habitats and species contribute to a healthy environment and these ongoing losses need to be addressed. A diverse and well-connected environment is needed to support the natural services we are losing as a society such as pollination.

But… as ever when you find yourself nodding in agreement at something Defra ministers say about the importance of the natural environment and the desire to improve it, your mind starts wandering to what other members of ‘the greenest government ever’ (this aspiration was re-stated yesterday) are up to. So it was that yesterday my mind turned to the Infrastructure Bill currently at Report Stage in the Lords.

In fact, if there is one word which has dominated political vocabulary in recent years, perhaps even more than ‘deficit’, it is ‘infrastructure’. The Oxford Dictionary describes it as ‘the basic physical and organisational structures and facilities (e.g. buildings, roads, power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise.’

Infrastructure was a major preoccupation of the Brown government and the amount of words from the present Treasury team – let alone Transport ministers – leaves no one in any doubt that this is one of the most central preoccupations of the present regime.

Plenty has been said about HS2, and as far as the Woodland Trust is concerned one of the hallmarks of world-class modern infrastructure should be the extent to which it respects natural heritage, such as ancient woodland. HS2 doesn’t pay sufficient respect at present and we look forward to sharing that view in person with the Hybrid Bill committee in due course.

In the meantime however, the journey of the Infrastructure Bill through Parliament (the title of the Bill alone is designed to send out a signal) continues to preoccupy minds and is proving a source of concern to environmentalists as it heads towards the Commons.

A good deal of focus recently has been upon its potential implications for the Public Forest Estate and the issue of the transfer of so called ‘surplus’ public land to the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA). We raised this concern directly with the Forestry Minister at the All Party Parliamentary Group for Biodiversity on 21 October and have been lobbying hard behind the scenes about this for some time. We were pleased to hear Dan Rogerson’s reassurance that the Government has absolutely no intention of transferring or selling any part of the Estate to the HCA, and he suggested that an amendment to the Bill was not necessary.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon

Since then further reassurance, in writing, has come in the form of a strong written ministerial statement issued on Tuesday seeking to make the intention to exempt the PFE ‘crystal clear’. This and any further spelling out Government is prepared to give is naturally welcome. Therefore we were pleased that last night Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon promised to bring forward an amendment to the Bill at Third Reading making this even more plain.

However this isn’t a substitute for the bringing forward of legislation for the Public Forest Estate. We do still believe that a specific Forestry Bill to settle the future of the PFE – something we have long campaigned for – is the way to truly clear up any confusion on this and other issues. This remains a promise Government made but has still not delivered.

Nor should it lead people to think that wider environmental concerns around the Infrastructure Bill are all addressed. It’s important to remember that the Infrastructure Bill raises a whole series of issues for the natural environment that go beyond this possible risk to the Public Forest Estate. Identifying hidden pitfalls where the Bill could have a wider impact on the natural environment is where we will now be concentrating our efforts.

As colleagues have previously blogged, we are anxious to ensure that any proposed changes to speed up the system do not take place at the expense of the environment. Current concerns for us centre around changes to the so called ‘deemed discharge’ of planning conditions – the situations where when planning permission is granted it is subject to a number of conditions (we think that conditions relating to the natural environment should be exempt from such changes).

We also want to see the Bill’s plans to make the Highways Agency a government-owned company tasked with managing and operating England’s motorway and road network, accompanied by very clear responsibilities around protection of the environment.
If, as Ms Truss concluded her speech yesterday, ‘a healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand in hand in securing Britain’s future’ then these changes to the Infrastructure Bill are perfectly reasonable. It also begs the question of whatever happened to ‘green infrastructure’? –something it would be good to hear ministers talking about far more. But that’s one of the themes we will return to as the Bill moves to the Commons.

Dr James Cooper, head of government affairs

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