Select Committee on Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Woodland Trust (G22)


  1.1  The Woodland Trust welcomes this opportunity to submit written evidence to the above inquiry. The comments that follow are delivered on behalf of the United Kingdom's leading charity solely dedicated to the conservation of native and broadleaved woodland. We achieve our purposes through a combination of acquiring woodland and sites for planting and through wider advocacy of the importance of protecting ancient woodland, enhancing its biodiversity, expanding woodland cover and increasing public enjoyment. We own over 1,100 sites across the country, covering around 18,000 hectares and we have 250,000 members and supporters.

  1.2  Our evidence focuses upon the first two areas outlined by the Committee in its terms of reference for this inquiry.


  2.1  The Trust welcomes the creation of DEFRA and recognises the achievements of the Department to date, particularly in the international realm. The vision for the Department as set out by the Secretary of State is inevitably wide ranging and contains a good deal that is clearly to be welcomed. In particular we welcome the prominence afforded to climate change. The statement would be strengthened however by a more holistic approach to rural development. Given DEFRA's commitment to sustainable development, the lack of any reference to forestry is a significant omission, since it covers some 8 per cent of the land area of England and was described in the Rural White paper as "a true multi-use activity".[6] We also believe that greater prominence should be afforded in the statement to the protection and enhancement of biodiversity and that the phrase "efficient use of environmental resources" should be changed to "sustainable use".

  2.2  In terms of the meeting of this vision, we welcome the increased connection which is being made between rural development and the protection and enhancement of the environment. We also welcome the personal commitment exhibited by the Department's ministerial team. However we believe that progress has been slow in a number of key areas, notably climate change, agriculture and the integration of sustainable development across Government.

Climate Change

  2.3  Whilst Ministers are committed to addressing climate change and are fulfilling an important communication role in relation to this issue, progress by the Department itself in actually taking action is disappointingly slow. The recent scenarios set out by the UK Climate Impacts Programme confirm how alarming even the most modest predictions are in terms of the likely impact of climate change on Britain over the next 50 years.[7] The fact that one cannot obtain complete certainty should not deter the taking of precautionary steps to adapt to what is inevitable change. Certainly the UK Phenology Network ( is showing some very strikingly consistent results in relation to the responses of many species to warmer temperatures eg the timing of natural events. We warmly welcome the statements that Ministers in the Department have made about the importance of addressing climate change but the overriding impression however is that DEFRA civil servants are being excessively reticent and are overestimating the degree of uncertainty and amount of time available for action, especially with regard to the adoption of adaptation strategies for biodiversity. Relative inaction in this regard also serves to reinforce the view that there is a need for the Department and the Government to afford a higher profile to the promotion of biodiversity generally.

  2.4  The Trust believes that adaptive strategies to conserve biodiversity in the face of climate change must involve action at the landscape scale and therefore we believe that sustainable land use becomes a paramount issue and should be the priority for DEFRA. In fact the need for landscape scale action to place our natural heritage on a more sustainable footing in the face of climate change is widely accepted by most environmental NGOs and a number of Government agencies. The task is rendered more straightforward by the fact that it is actually unnecessary to develop a whole new series of adaptive strategies. Making the agricultural matrix within which much of our wildlife must survive more environmentally sustainable, and achieving the protection of our remaining semi-natural habitats such as ancient woodland from intensive land use and development through buffering, extension and adequate legislative protection not only provides the space for biodiversity to adapt in the face of climate change but represents good conservation practice anyway. What is needed by DEFRA therefore is enhanced emphasis, resources and the will to implement changes which are already well acknowledged, understood and being considered.


  2.5  DEFRA therefore has the opportunity to enact landscape scale adaptation measures through existing tools. A prime example is through the reform of farming policy where although there have been welcome ministerial statements on the need for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy and support for the recommendations of the Curry report[8], progress to date in enacting change has been relatively slow.

  2.6  The achievement of real benefits to rural communities and the achievement of a more sustainable and accessible countryside requires a major shift in how farming is funded. We applaud DEFRA's recognition of this but there is a clear need for further action to back up the rhetoric. Whilst we recognise that the necessary reduction over time of first pillar direct payments and the reallocation of these to the second pillar will take time and involve convincing all EU member states, there are short and medium term opportunities which it is vital to grasp. The most obvious case here is the need for modulation to be increased to 10 per cent as a minimum immediately, as advocated by the Curry report[9], and then to the 20 per cent permitted under Agenda 2000 as soon as possible. This will significantly increase the funds available for agri-environment schemes which have a critical role to play in the achievement of a more sustainable countryside. Progress on this and swifter implementation of the Curry report would send out the right signals that the Department is firmly committed to the delivery of its stated aims and objectives.

Sustainable Development

  2.7  DEFRA's role as champion within Government of sustainable development is a crucial one but at present the evidence that it is succeeding in this role remains patchy. We warmly welcome the fact that the Treasury is asking Government Departments to ensure that sustainable development is taken into account in their bids for the 2002 Spending Review (SR). However this must be weighted against the widely acknowledged lack of regard paid by the Planning Green Paper to sustainable development. Given the centrality of the planning system to the achievement of sustainable development this must raise questions about the current relationship between DEFRA and DTLR and the extent of DEFRA's input into such an important document for the environment. We believe that there is a strong case for enhancing DEFRA's role in relation to the integration of sustainable development across Government and that it should be properly resourced to do so.

  2.8  We also believe that there is a need for an enhanced emphasis upon public engagement with the issues of sustainable development generally and climate change in particular. At present public engagement is extremely limited and the "Are you doing your bit?" campaign has proved lacklustre. The run up to the Johannesburg Summit would seem to be an ideal opportunity for a concerted effort to increase public awareness of such crucial issues.


  3.1  We welcome the desire for a more holistic approach to rural issues which has informed the creation of DEFRA but the impression lingers of a heavy concentration of personnel in the Department working upon agricultural issues as compared with the environment. We would like to see this balance redressed in order to reflect DEFRA's substantially broader remit than the former MAFF. This should also help to progress important work on biodiversity and climate change at a swifter pace.

  3.2  It is essential to ensure that the urban environment is not neglected and that DEFRA's focus is not exclusively upon the environment in rural areas. The urban environment has a crucial impact upon issues such as house building pressures in the countryside as well as being the focus of most of the population's interaction with greenspace and biodiversity. The impression is conveyed at present that confusion exists as to whether DEFRA or DTLR is the lead ministry in relation to urban forestry. Similarly, the delivery of the recommendations of the recent report by the Urban Green Spaces Task Force[10] will certainly require close co-operation between DTLR's successor and DEFRA.

  3.3  Finally, as well as the policy dimension, it is important to ensure that processes in the Department are attuned to the delivery of the kind of landscape scale action that is required in the face of climate change. For example, it is surprising that the current review of agri-environment schemes in England does not encompass the Farm Woodland Premium Scheme, which clearly by its very name and nature is a farm based agri-environment scheme, and that it is instead being considered as part of a separate review of support for woodland creation in England. This is a notable omission given that forestry is likely to form an important part of agri-environment delivery on the farm with land being diversified for tree planting, as well as its significant wider contribution to society through the range of public benefits it is able to deliver. Forestry is the second largest land use after farming and is integral to rural development, closer attention to forestry is therefore essential if DEFRA is to fulfil its objectives of promoting sustainable rural areas, and an attractive and well managed countryside.

May 2002

6   MAFF/DETR (2000), Our Countryside the Future, p115. Back

7   Climate Change Scenarios for the United Kingdom; the UKCIP02 Briefing Report (2002). Back

8   Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food (2002), Farming: a Sustainable FutureBack

9   Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food, Op cit p77. Back

10   Green Spaces, Better Places, Final report of the Urban Green Spaces Task Force (2002). Back

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