"Trees and woodland are a key part our natural history, cultural heritage and resilient healthy future" says the consultation document before raising a number of ambitious aims for comment.

The government has already committed to a target to plant 30,000 hectares of new trees every year by 2025 yet the Technical Annex to the consultation estimates that highest possible planting rate is 10,000 hectares per year.

And the government recently rejected a petition to give all ancient trees (over 100 years of age) the legal right not to be damaged or felled, save for sustainable forestry or to maintain the tree’s health. In its response to the petition, the government said:

Ancient trees are a living link to our history so we already have extensive controls on their protection; additional legal rights for ancient trees are not necessary in addition to those.

Currently, protection of ancient trees depends on Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs). TPOs are difficult to get as they are often seen as an obstruction to housing development and they can be over-ridden by planning permission. Enforcement of TPOs is almost non-existent.

Many people do not realise that designating woods for their scientific and conservation importance does not guarantee protection. Nearly 85% of ancient woodlands, including five of the 12 largest woods in England, have no designation at all. For those that are protected, loopholes in the planning system allow this protection to be overridden if a developer can prove an economic need.

Even conservation areas offer little real protection. Felling trees in the Henfield Conservation Area must be notified but notification does not mean action unless, rarely, the overstretched arboricultural team in Horsham decides to intervene.

There is a lack of joined up thinking between government strategies. The housing strategy - "Build build build" - takes priority. The government has already swept away planning controls that allowed local people to oppose new developments and is about to impose swingeing new building targets that will see much of our countryside concreted over.

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Is this how the government envisages the role of trees in our future? (Source: Planning for the Future, White Paper, August 2020)

The government is asking for views on:

  • how to expand, protect and improve our public and private trees and woodlands,
  • the increased role that trees and woodlands can play in supporting the economy,
  • how best to further connect people to nature, and
  • the most effective way in which trees and woodlands can be created and managed to help combat climate change.

If you care about trees and our countryside, please comment on the consultation. The closing date is 11 September 2020.


The views expressed here are those of Campaign to Protect Rural Henfield and do not necessarily represent the position of the Henfield Hub.