Asides from the very relevant and unprecedented threats to trees and woodland by way of diseases, pests and climate change, there remains a need for vigilance with regards potential threats caused by way of the many changes to legislative and planning procedure to enable cuts in the UK public sector.
The residue of campaigners and those in the industry left investigating threats, following the decision by HM government to withdraw PFE sales indefinitely and also halt the consultation process, have discovered many issues and problems which need to be addressed properly.
Interestingly many of the identified problems are identical despite coming from very different quarters and as such it is possible to hone in on the most important threats and problems to allow for further structured campaigning.
Firstly the Forestry Commission: During the campaign there was some complaint raised about FC management, the source of which came from historical management issues long since abandoned by the FC. The truth is that the FC are the umbrella with regards all issues of tree and woodland custodial management both in the private and public sector. The silencing of the FC is not only contrary to progression of tree and woodland policy, but is financially crazy. Virtually all the issues being discussed by others at present have been subject to investigation, research and implementation by the FC. To ignore this voice and follow small scale self interested opinion is not only wrong but threatens established methods which link the natural heritage of England to the UK and the UK to Europe and beyond together with all the legislation and common initiatives that will enable ‘sustainable forest management’ progression.
Secondly; changes to Town & Country Planning Procedure: There are potential threats to trees, particularly in the English suburban landscape, as a result of sweeping ‘streamlining’ to planning procedure. This streamlining is required in order to allow for cutbacks within Local Authorities to occur and have been subject to public consultation. If proposed changes, particularly to TPO legislation occur it will lessen the voice of third parties who wish to comment on a tree in its setting. This was a uniquely British aspect to tree protection and allowed for commentary on tree values outside of any academic or financial remit. Many of those that responded to the consultation came from industry sectors that benefit from a lessening of restrictions and argued that changes to the TPO system were still too restrictive for insurance and development purposes. One NGO is particularly concerned with PPS9, which ascertains protection to ‘designated’ landscapes. Perhaps there is a risk here also, but it is unlikely that PPS9 will be changed much, possibly amalgamated into another PPS, as it deals with recognised and established designations which are held in national, European and International statutory law.
Thirdly; the NGO’s: The majority of NGOs rigidly uphold their remit and as such their commentary reflects this. Those that are intrinsically linked to the FC were silenced alongside the FC. The NGOs whose voice was relevant to the campaign as a whole were criticised for not speaking out in time and one in particular attempted to manipulate the campaign and were rightly criticised for this. Some heartening development is that some of the older and more stoic NGOs have decided to stir and re-establish their grass roots. This is of great benefit for a continued voice of opposition to any decisions made which may affect tree and woodland. However there is a justified fear that the NGO voice on any panel deciding future policy on trees and woodlands in England is likely to be counterproductive to proper debate as it will lead to fragmentation of the wider issues. One hopes that any individual chosen who happens to be affiliated to an existing NGO will adopt an independent stance if awarded a place on a discussion panel.
Taking the government at its word one can assume that there is now a real opportunity to suggest and define progress towards the protection of trees and woodland and all the benefits associated with this most vital element of our landscape, beyond the existing remit of the FC, (although it is absolutely imperative that FC remains in full, due to the knowledge base and resources which assist such progression, which is not just confined to the UK).
An integrated approach is essential and needs to encompass all relevant factors, (too numerous to mention here), but primarily allow a landscape that reflects and encourages a bond between us and our trees and woodlands for all, including, indeed crucially within urban & semi urban environments. As such the idea of using ‘planning gains’ in urban / semi urban planning decisions to encourage new planting in the rural landscape is contrary to such progression. The rural landscape must be seen to blend into our towns and cities and any new planting must be carried out to halt further fragmentation of woodlands and habitats and allow for the creation of corridors which reflect the arboreal aspects of a particular regions landscape.
There are still great threats and thankfully there are many who are keeping a close eye on developments. However from the chaos that existed during the campaign to preserve public forest estate comes the opportunity to create the gold standard model for other countries to aspire towards.
For ongoing developments and discussion: SAVE OUR WOODS