Tree Planting

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons at 9:30 am on 5th November 2015.

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Photo of Jack Lopresti Jack Lopresti Chair, Armed Forces Bill Committee

How many trees the Government plan to plant during this Parliament.

Photo of Jeremy Quin Jeremy Quin Conservative, Horsham

How many trees the Government plan to plant during this Parliament.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

How many trees the Government plan to plant during this Parliament.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We are committed to plant 11 million trees this Parliament. That is in addition to the 11 million we planted in the last Parliament, which is contributing to the highest woodland cover in Britain since 14th century.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

The new national forest that covers much of my constituency has seen 8.5 million trees planted in the last 25 years, with another 126,000 planned for next year alone. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not all about quantity—quality is also important and these woodlands need managing so that the trees thrive for future generations?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. The national forest has been a fantastic achievement. We are celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. It was put in place by the John Major Government in 1995. It is an incredible boost to tourism, but I completely agree that we need to see a mixed variety of woodland being planted, including many of our important native trees such as the oak, the ash and the beech. We also need to make sure those woodlands are managed, and thanks to the Grown in Britain campaign we are seeing more of our woodland under management.

Photo of Jack Lopresti Jack Lopresti Chair, Armed Forces Bill Committee

Does the Minister share my view that it is important for planning guidance to recognise the inherent interest in maintaining ancient woodland, and veteran trees in particular?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Ancient woodland is of huge historical value to our country. It also provides very important soil that we will never get back if we lose it, as well as a huge variety of trees, and we are committed to protecting it in the planning system.

Photo of Jeremy Quin Jeremy Quin Conservative, Horsham

The Secretary of State will be pleased to hear I represent the most biodiverse constituency on earth given the presence within it of the millennium seed bank at Wakehurst Place. Will she join with me in congratulating Wakehurst on the work being done on the UK national tree seed project, testing the resilience of our native species?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Wakehurst Place is a fantastic national asset and is part of the Kew group, which is the jewel in DEFRA’s crown. Not only do we have the millennium seed bank and the important work it provides; we also have the world’s largest database of plants, which we are now digitising so we can benefit everybody in society.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank my right hon. Friend for her answers thus far. The importance of a well-maintained, well-managed woodland capability is clearly dependent on demand for timber. What role is there for Grown in Britain to manage that demand, and what extra role can it fulfil in future?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Grown in Britain is a fantastic campaign that is bringing together people from right across the timber supply chain to ensure that more of our buildings use British wood, perhaps by adjusting building standards, and that more of the furniture that we buy uses British woods such as oak and beech. Thanks to the Grown in Britain project, we have seen an 8% increase in domestic timber production between 2010 and 2014, and more of our woodland is now under management.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

But may we have a note of realism from the Secretary of State? Until recently, her Government wanted to sell off those jewels in the crown. They wanted to sell off our national forest. Is it not a fact that more trees are dying of disease than are being planted? When will she take on the great estates of this country that have owned our land and exploited it for hundreds of years—[Interruption.] No, some of us remember, because we like John Clare, that there was something called the enclosures. Is it not about time that those great estates were made to do something positive, rather than just seeking planning permission for residential building?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are taking positive steps. We want to put our woodland in trust for the nation. I have just announced an extension to the Yorkshire Dales national park and the Lake District national park that will create the largest area of almost continuous national park in our country. We are building up Kew as a fantastic organisation and using our expertise to benefit countries around the world. I am incredibly proud of what we are doing in this area, and I wish that the hon. Gentleman would take more pride in it as well.

Photo of Angela Smith Angela Smith Labour, Penistone and Stocksbridge

The Secretary of State said a moment ago that ancient woodland needed to be properly protected in the planning system, but it is the clear view of the Woodland Trust that the planning protections that are in place are not good enough. What representations will she make to the Department for Communities and Local Government to ensure that planning protection for ancient woodland is improved and made robust?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I think we have excellent protection for ancient woodland in our planning system.

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We absolutely do. What is more, we have just launched our 25-year plan for the environment. We are looking at natural capital and at the value of woodland. We also want to ensure that trees are planted in the right place, because where we plant them makes a tremendous difference. We must ensure that we build for the future.

Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down

Will the Secretary of State outline what plans the Government have, aside from the planting of new trees, for protecting and developing arboretums, which can contain some fine indigenous species as well as trees, flora and fauna from across the world, particularly in landed estates, which are a tourism asset?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. I have mentioned Wakehurst Place, and I also have a fantastic arboretum in my own constituency, the Lynford arboretum. We are making sure that all the elements of DEFRA work much more closely together so that we can get the data out there to enable people to understand about our natural heritage and so that we can protect that heritage for the future.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality)

The Woodland Trust is doing a significant amount of tree planting across the whole of the United Kingdom, and this Saturday a centenary wood will be planted near Limavady. What discussions are the Secretary of State and her Department having with the Woodland Trust to ensure that lots of woods and trees are planted in this centenary year?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; the Woodland Trust is a fantastic organisation. We are working closely with it and with other voluntary organisations as part of our tree-planting programme.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I very much welcome the progress that the Secretary of State has mentioned, but the industry is still predicting a shortage of home-grown timber by the 2030s. Confor estimates that the UK needs to plant 12,000 hectares of productive woodland a year for the next 25 years in order to maintain supplies and preserve the tremendous contribution that trees make to our environment. Will she tell the House how she proposes to close that gap, to secure the land required and to help farmers and other landowners to play a greater role in developing new forests?

Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

First, may I welcome the new Opposition Front-Bench team to their places? I am looking forward to meeting them over the Dispatch Box in the coming months.

The hon. Gentleman is right to say that we have a burgeoning timber industry in this country. We now have more demand for our native woods, which is important. It is important for biodiversity to bring more of our woodlands and forest under management. As part of the 25-year environmental plan and the natural capital approach, we will be looking at things such as how we can use the planting of trees to help flood defences. Last week, I went to see “Slowing the Flow” in Pickering, which is using the woodland—putting trees upstream—to help slow the flow downstream. There are a lot of opportunities to look at the environment more holistically so that we can both plant trees and help address our other environmental priorities.