Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence



APPENDIX 4

Memorandum submitted by English Nature (K 7)

  1.  English Nature is the statutory body that champions the conservation and enhancement of the wildlife and natural features of England. We work for wildlife in partnership with others, by:

    advising—Government, other agencies, local authorities, interest groups, business communities, individuals on nature conservation in England ;

    regulating—activities affecting the special nature conservation sites in England;

    enabling—helping others to manage land for nature conservation, through grants, projects and information;

    enthusing—advocating nature conservation for all and biodiversity as a key test of sustainable development.

  We have statutory responsibilities for nationally-important nature conservation sites: Sites of Special Scientific Interest, the most important of which are managed as National Nature Reserves.

  Through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international nature conservation issues.

  2.  English Nature welcomes the changes that have taken place in the Forestry Commission over the last 15 years, and the increasingly close co-operation between ourselves and the Forestry Commission in delivering the Government's Biodiversity Action Programme over the last five years (Annex 1). There is a need for this to be better reflected as a positive element in the Forestry Commission's accounts to Treasury. We would not wish biodiversity and other environmental work cut during what we realise is a difficult time financially for the Forestry Commission because of low timber prices. In England, forestry provides significant public benefits.

  3.  We have generally good relationships with the Forestry Commission at all levels, from its Headquarters in Edinburgh and Cambridge to local offices, and with its agencies Forest Research and Forest Enterprise. Differences do arise over particular sites or the rate at which certain changes should take place (for example clearance of trees off heathland in south-west England). However, the good working relationship between the two organisations means that these differences can be resolved without resorting to the open confrontation that characterised most forestry and nature conservation debates of the late 70s, early 80s.

  4.  Devolution has led to a much clearer focus in the Forestry Commission for forestry in England as reflected in the England Forestry Strategy. We were pleased to have been part of its development (Annex 2). While there should continue to be a strong GB/UK overview on forestry we support the evolution of distinctive forestry policies in each country reflecting their differing environmental needs and issues.

  5.  English Nature encourages a landscape-scale approach to land-use change: we wish to see the various agri-environment schemes, energy crops and new woodland developed in ways that will help to buffer and link existing semi-natural habitats while avoiding damage to high value areas. Increasingly the Forestry Commission has shown itself to be sympathetic to this approach in the development and application of its grant schemes. However there has seemed at times to be a lack of integration between, for example, the Farm Woodland Scheme and the Livestock exclusion Annual Premium (for woods) and what was tending to be encouraged under other MAFF schemes. Promotion of extensification through area payments in the uplands has the potential side-effect of encouraging grazing within woodland to increase the forage area. We welcome the inclusion of forestry within the same chapter of RDR as agriculture and the Forestry Commission's role as advisor to MAFF on Short Rotation Coppice applications as pointers to closer working in future. English Nature has put forward a proposal to Government for more joined-up delivery of advisory services to farmers (memorandum available from English Nature on request). Bringing forestry advice into this approach would be logical and helpful.

  6.  In south-east England a major threat to ancient woodland is development. The Forestry Commission has recently been made a non-statutory consultee on planning applications that affect ancient woodland. As yet however it is not clear how far Forestry Commission staff will be willing to take a lead in questioning proposed developments on the non-statutory ancient woods where English Nature is not normally involved. We believe that the Forestry Commission should set out a robust approach to the protection of semi-ancient natural woodland threatened by development.

SUMMARY

    —  We welcome the changes in the Forestry Commission over the last 15 years.

    —  We believe that a strong country-based Forestry Commission covering all aspects of its work in England within a GB/UK overview is essential to deliver the distinctive nature of forestry in England.

    —  The Forestry Commission's large contribution to delivering the Government's Biodiversity Action Plan should be recognised in its accounts. The dire state of the timber market should not be used as an excuse not to continue with biodiversity work.

    —  MAFF and the Forestry Commission should explore whether there are ways that woodland advice can be better integrated with those for other schemes.

    —  The Forestry Commission should be encouraged to take a stronger line in opposing the loss through development of ancient woodland.

13 November 2000



Annex 1

EXAMPLES OF FC ACTIVITY, SUPPORTED BY ENGLISH NATURE, TO DELIVER THE BIODIVERSITY ACTION PROGRAMME

1.  FC chair the UK Woodland Habitat Action Plan Steering Group on which English Nature is an active member.

  2.  Joint working over improving procedures for drawing up woodland grant schemes on SSSIs.

  3.  English Nature advice to FC in developing its New Native Woods in National Parks and JIGSAW grant programmes.

  4.  Felling licences being issued by FC for clearance of trees to restore heathland under English Nature—sponsored programmes.

  5.  Major heathland and wood-pasture restoration plans being implemented by Forest Enterprise in the New Forest under English Nature guidance using EU LIFE funds.

  6.    Several thousands of hectares of conifers on ancient woodland sites owned by Forest Enterprise to be restored to Native woodland under plans agreed with English Nature.

  7.  Joint projects with Forest Research to combine data-sets to improve the knowledge and awareness of England's woodland resource.



Annex 2

ENGLISH NATURE'S CONTRIBUTION TO THE ENGLAND FORESTRY STRATEGY

BACKGROUND

  English Nature is the statutory body responsible for advising both central and local Government on nature conversation and for promoting the wildlife and natural features of England. In fulfilling its duties, English Nature:

    —  advises Ministers on the development and implementation of policies for nature conservation:

    —  advises Ministers on other policies affecting nature conservation;

    —  identifies, notifies and safeguards Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs);

    —  establishes and manages National Nature Reserves;

    —  provides guidance and advice on the principles and practice of nature conservation to a wide constituency;

    —  commissions and supports research and other projects relevant to nature conservation.

  Through the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, English Nature works with sister organisations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to advise Government on UK and international nature conservation issues.

  Our general approach to forestry is set out in our 1994 Position Statement (1) (reviewed in 1997) which we will be revisiting this autumn.

Our involvement in forestry and the strategy

  English Nature was pleased to be part of the working group that helped in drafting the Strategy. For us (and for me personally) it represented the latest step in the transformation of forestry policy and practice that started with the 1985 Broadleaves Policy and the traumas of the upland afforestation debates in the 1980s. Since then there has been increasingly close working in England between the forestry sector and first the Nature Conservancy Council, then since 1991 English Nature. This has included our inputs to developing the Forest Practice Guide for semi-natural woods, the UK Forestry Standards UKWAS standards and criteria and now the strategy. How then will English Nature be contributing to its implementation?

FORESTRY FOR RURAL DEVELOPMENT

Policies for agricultural reform

  The key to a countryside richer in woodland and wildlife lies with taking land out of intensive agriculture.

  English Nature, put considerable effort into the discussions over the Agenda 2000 proposals. Jointly with the Countryside Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and Countryside Council for Wales, we commissioned ENTEC consultants to look at the possible implications of CAP reform for the transfer of land from farming to forestry (2). The Agencies are currently following up two strands of that work: the first is looking at the degree to which land held by "new entrants" to the land market (second home owners; non-farmer land-owners etc) may be more-or-less interested in farming than existing farmers. The second project, which we plan to start later this year, will explore the implications of land, either deliberately or through neglect, reverting to woodland naturally (as is common in many other parts of the EU at present). These projects will provide information that can be fed into the mid-term review of the Rural Development Regulation.

Strategic development of woodland resource

  English Nature supports the expansion of our woodland resource in a sustainable way. A cornerstone of any rational future woodland development is a sound understanding of current resource. The Forestry Commission's National Inventory of Woodland and Trees (NIWT) plays a key part in this. We have therefore been working with FC on how we can link our data-sets, such as the Ancient Woodland Inventory, information on species distribution and variations in woodland composition, with the NIWT.

  A pilot project was run successfully last year (3) and this is being developed for the rest of England through a contract with Forest Research. We are similarly looking at the woodland findings from the Countryside Survey 2000 project. The results from this work will permit a holistic view to be taken of the England Woodland resource. Our own contribution to these data sources, the ancient woodland inventory and SSSI boundaries, are being made more widely available over the Internet.

Diversification on farms

  English Nature has kept in touch since 1990 with the work of ETSU in assessing the potential environmental impacts of energy crops, particularly short-rotation coppice (SRC). Consequently we were able to help with and endorse the "best practice" guidelines produced under their auspices. We do have some concerns about whether enough is known about the effects of SRC on the environment at a landscape scale and the implications for wildlife if it is put in the wrong place eg on wet meadows. However, regulatory systems can take account of these concerns and therefore in our response to the recent consultation (4) on energy crops we considered that there could be significant conservation gains if SRC were created on improved grassland or arable fields.

FORESTRY FOR ECONOMIC REGENERATION

Support for regional programmes

  English Nature has identified appropriate Local Team Managers as Regional Co-ordinators and will work through these to deliver local and national conservation objectives, for example through woodland initiatives such as the Marches Woodland project.

  English Nature has long had an interest in the habitats of urban and peri-urban because of their intrinsic nature conversation value, but also because it is important that people have access to green spaces close to where they live. Within English Nature there is a thriving network of staff in our local teams who promote urban conservation directly and through our publication Urban Wildlife News. Therefore we will work to ensure that new woodland, both planted (as in the Community Forests) and that which develops spontaneously on abandoned land, contributes to the mosaic of habitats in and around towns.

Forestry and land use planning

  A number of recent cases have shown that a major cause of losses to ancient woodland is development. On non-statutory sites our input is limited by resources and we rely on the planning system taking account of ancient woodland. We will encourage local authorities to develop policies for ancient woodland protection either directly or through their inclusion in the lists of local wildlife sites (12,13). We will also contribute to the review of Circular 36/78 on Trees and Forestry and other planning guidance to ensure the nature conservation benefits of woodland and forestry are recognised.

Environmental improvements

  English Nature has emphasised the problems of habitat fragmentation which can be caused inter alia by new road and rail routes. However, both in urban and rural areas, transport corridors can also provide potential for linking up previously isolated areas (5, 6). We all therefore work with those planning and managing infra-structure projects to ensure that the most is made of the potential of new woodland along such routes. We do not condone habitat loss but, where it is inevitable, we will encourage developers to consider the still relatively new techniques of moving soil, plants and dead wood from areas being lost to new sites to see if this can speed up the rate of colonisation of new sites by woodland specialists.

FORESTRY FOR RECREATION, ACCESS AND TOURISM

Access to woodland

  English Nature is keen to see how many people having access to woodland both in general and on our own reserves (over 2,000 ha of mainly ancient woodland). We have reviewed the soils, flora and fauna of woods and in most sites, most of the time there should not be a problem (7). This work, and our experience in woodland NNRs and SSSIs, formed the basis for our guidance on access impacts with respect to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill. Some of our woodland reserves are included in the National "Walk in the Woods" programme and recently we organised our own "Wild Day Out" when we made a special effort to encourage people to visit local National Nature Reserves. Over 2,000 people came to Monks Wood, the vast majority of whom lived locally but had never visited it before. Clearly we would not want such numbers on the reserve every day of the year but it helps to emphasise the potential interest.

Promote better understanding

  The public interest generated by the Veteran Trees Initiative (a partnership involving Countryside Agency, English Heritage, and others that ran from 1996 until March of this year) was also incredible and importantly covered not just the biological aspects, but also cultural and historic aspects of old trees (8). A series of demonstration days and workshops were run across the country that emphasised that it was possible to manage veteran trees to keep them safe and to maintain their unique values. English Nature will build on this in our role as lead for the Lowland Wood-pasture and Parkland Habitat Action Plan. More generally our staff are heavily involved in training courses and talks to local and national groups on all aspects of woodland conservation.

  There are concerns with respect to people and woods, one of which is the issue of public liability, particularly with respect to dead wood and old trees. A book on veteran tree management has been produced with a stand-alone (free) booklet on the safety issue (8, 9).

ENVIRONMENT AND CONSERVATION

Protection of ancient woodland

  Ancient woodland is better protected now that it has ever been (10) but further action is still needed. Major roles for us under this heading include the following:

    —  Identification and designation of woodland as sites of Special Scientific Interest SSSIs and as Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) under the European Habitats and Species Directive. There are currently about 1,000 SSSIs with woodland on them in England which cover about 80,000 ha. There were c. 24,000 ha of woodland in England included in the original list of SACs drawn up under the Habitats and Species Directive regulations and further areas are being proposed under the current review.

    —  Provision of advice on and support for the management of such woods to meet our conservation objectives for them. We have a programme for ensuring that the owner and other interested parities are aware of the specific conservation needs of these sites and can provide some funds for management via management Wildlife Enhancement Schemes and Reserve Enhancement Schemes.

    —  Establishment of systems for monitoring the condition of SSSIs in relation to our objectives and the owner's management aims. Currently about 62 per cent are in favourable condition or have the right management in place to restore the effects of past neglect or mismanagement and this figure is growing.

  Often improved management can be achieved by bringing the woods into a Woodland Grant Scheme. We have therefore instigated with the Forestry Commission a process whereby our Site Management Statements can be integrated with the Woodland Grant Scheme contract as part of the process of closer working between our two organisations (11).

  In key areas such as the New Forest, Borrowdale, South Cumbrian woods we have helped establish broad partnerships that have brought significant new funds into woodland management through the EU LIFE programme. We aim to collaborate on further such bids and also on HLF bids. Outside the SSSI/SAC series our direct role in site protection is necessarily less because of pressure on our resources (particularly staff time). We maintain the Ancient Woodland Inventory for England which helps to identify important sites outside formal designations and have worked with Local Authorities and Forestry Commission to improve policy and practice with respect to these woods (12, 13). There are about 22,000 sites on the inventory covering about 340,000 hectares only about 14 per cent of which (by area) are within the SSSI system. Since some further loss may be inevitable we also work to ensure that any compensation measures proposed are of a scale and type appropriate to the losses. The opportunities provided by, but also the limitations of, operations such as the moving of woodland soils from threatened to new sites need to identified.

  Deer are an important part of woodland system and grazing animals can make a significant contribution to the biodiversity of a site. However too much grazing can be damaging and we are concerned about the effect on both designated and non-designated woodland of the rising number of deer in the countryside. We fully support the Deer Initiative and provide data on conservation impacts of deer to support its work (14).

Environmental benefits of forestry

  English Nature contributes to the government's research into environmental impacts of climate change: part of this work involves modelling the effects of different scenarios on selected woodland species. Other research has looked at the potential for woodland (and other new habitats) to help link up remnant wildlife patches in farmland, thus diversifying the countryside generally (15).

  We have supported through grant-aid Flora Locale's work on promoting use of native plants and local provenance generally which we used as part of our input to FC's consultations on local provenance zones for trees and shrubs. On SSSIs we promote the use of local stock in any planting schemes, although we encourage owners to use natural regeneration as far as possible which obviates the need for planting stock.

Biodiversity Action Plan related work

  English Nature is a major player in the various committees and groups overseeing the various woodland-related habitat and species action plans. Much of our research and conservation management funding is directly linked to work on these priorities. Examples include funding to look at the needs of saproxylic invertebrates; support for a post at the National History Museum to draw together work from the specialist societies on lower plants; support for FE's work on restoration of replanted ancient woodland; development of a database for wood-pastures and parkland and for parkland surveys in particular counties (16).

  We are contributing to the woodland expansion targets, directly for example on our reserve at Ingleborough; indirectly through research on identifying locations for expansion of native woods (17); and work with FC on implementation of current and proposed challenge funds. It is perhaps helpful to note that the most optimistic figures for rates of new planting needed to meet the BAP targets can be achieved within the current broadleaved planting rates.

  A major area of work for us and the other Agencies is establishment of the National Biodiversity Network and ensuring that there is a framework of habitat and species monitoring linked into this. Assessing long-term change, not just in managed but also in unmanaged sites is a key component of this and we have been collating examples of such work recently (18) and we will be putting more funds into this year as part of a joint project with DETR and FC. We are part of the Native Woodland Partnership Group have been working with FC to develop indicative targets and priorities for woodland expansion and restoration by Natural Areas.

  The National Area profiles set our priorities for nature conservation, but there is sometimes potential conflict between objectives for one habitat or species against another. We are exploring such potential tensions and how they may be resolved through a study in the Chilterns (joint with FC, CA etc) looking at how different areas might be allocated to (say) new beech woodland, chalk grassland or scrub for butterflies.

  While there should be no return to the false dichotomy of forestry versus nature conservation of the 1970s tension does exist between the BAP and other forestry objectives over how far (and where) developing woodland and plantations should be cleared back to restore heath, open fen, chalk grassland etc. Discussions between FC, English Nature and various NGOs are leading to a set of guidelines that can guide this process.

Cultural Heritage

  The concept of ancient woodland reflects in part a historical/cultural approach to nature conservation. This becomes even more important in dealing with the conservation of parks and wood-pasture. We are actively working with sister agencies such as English Heritage and the Countryside Agency to ensure that both biological and cultural heritage receive equal weight in taking forward this particular—Habitat Action Plan.

  Some short-term measures of success of implementation of the England Forestry Strategy—An English Nature Perspective.

    —  The transfer of significant parcels eg 40 ha or more of lowland arable/improved pasture to forestry.

    —  Reduction in the piece-meal erosion of the ancient woodland resources.

    —  An integrated, comprehensive and accessible inventory of England's woodland resource.

    —  Improvement in condition of existing woodland and increased linkages between ancient woods.

    —  Improvement in commercial value of woods alongside their increasing environment and social contributions.

REFERENCES

  1.  English Nature 1994. Position Statement on Environmentally Sustainable Forestry, (reviewed 1997). Peterborough: English Nature.

  2.  Entec 1999. Common agricultural policy reform and forestry. Unpublished report to Countryside Agency, Countryside Council for Wales, English Nature and Scottish Natural Heritage.

  3.  Ferris, R & Purdy, K 1999. A pilot study to examine the potential linkage between and applications of multiple woodland data-sets: a GIS approach. Peterborough: Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC report 298).

  4.  English Nature 2000. The energy crops scheme: response to MAFF consultation. Peterborough: English Nature.

  5.  Kirby, K J. 1995. Rebuilding English Countryside. Peterborough: English Nature (English Nature Science 10).

  6.  English Nature 1993. Roads and nature conservation: guidance on impacts, mitigation and enhancement. Peterborough: English Nature.

  7.  Anderson, P & Radford, E 1992. A review of the effects of recreation on woodland soils, vegetation and fauna. Peterborough: English Nature Research Reports, No. 27.

  8.  Veteran Trees Initiative 2000. Veteran Trees: a guide to good management. Peterborough: English Nature.

  Other VTI products include:

  Veteran Trees: a guide to grants. Peterborough: English Nature.

  Veteran Trees: historical and cultural aspects a bibliography. Peterborough: English Nature (Research Report 318).

  9.  Veteran Trees Initiative 2000 Veteran trees: a guide to risk and responsibility. Peterborough: English Nature.

  10.  Thomas, R C Kirby, K J & Reid, C M 1997. The conservation of a fragmented ecosystem within a cultural landscape—the case of ancient woodland in England. Biological Conservation 82, 243-252.

  11.  English Nature/Forestry Commission 1999. Integration of English Nature SSSI site management statements and Forestry Commission woodland grant schemes. Peterborough: English Nature (unpublished draft procedural guidance).

  12.  Reid, C M 1999. Local authorities: the protection and management of ancient woodland. Peterborough: English Nature (Research Report 250).

  13.  Reid, C M 1999. Planning consultations on ancient woodland. Peterborough: English Nature (leaflet).

  14.  Kikby, K J (submitted) The impact of deer on the ground flora of British broadleaved woodland. Forestry.

  15.  Thomas, R C 2000. Habitat Restoration Programme, Final Report. Peterborough: English Nature (Research Report in press).

  16.   Annual review of English Nature's Science programme. Peterborough: English Nature.

  17.  Thompson, J et al 1999. Creating native woodland in upland England. Peterborough: English Nature (Research Report 307).

  18.  Kirby, K J & Morecroft, M D 2000. Long-term studies in British woodland. Peterborough: (English Nature Science 34).


 
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