To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what role (a) his Department (b) the Forestry Commission (c) Natural England (d) any other relevant bodies play in ensuring (a) deep peat and (b) other valuable wildlife habitats are not damaged by tree planting.
16 December 2020
The Forestry Commission is the lead department for the approval of woodland creation projects. It assesses forestry projects under the Environmental Impact Assessment Forestry Regulations to determine if they require consent under these regulations. Forestry Commission’s approval of forestry schemes is underpinned by the UK Forestry Standard. This states that there will be no new afforestation on peat that is deeper than 50cm and that the minimum amount of soil disturbance should be made during cultivation and site preparation for tree planting, particularly on organic rich soils. There is also a presumption against woodland creation on priority non-woodland habitat because of the value of those non-woodland habitats in their own right.
Woodland creation schemes above a certain threshold assessed by the Forestry Commission also require applicants to gather evidence as part of scheme development from relevant environmental bodies, such as Natural England and Wildlife Trusts. These organisations can consider proposals against their own knowledge and data sets. As the statutory nature conservation adviser, Natural England provides expert ecological advice to Forestry Commission on the likely significance of impacts associated with woodland creation affecting Protected Sites and on priority habitats and species, including those dependent on peatlands. The Forestry Commission also places all woodland creation schemes on their ‘Public Register’ which offers interested parties an opportunity to identify special features such as important habitats that may not have been identified at any previous point in the approval process.