Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:43 pm on 1st November 2000.

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Photo of Earl Peel Earl Peel Conservative 4:43 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, the Bill provides for a right of access to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land but it does not provide a right of access to woodland. The Government were strongly advised by the Forestry Commission, the Countryside Agency, English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales to adopt a voluntary approach in improving public access to woodland. That is reflected in the provision for voluntary dedication of land to access in Clause 16.

However, there appears to be a lack of clarity, which must be overcome, about the treatment of woodland which either regenerates naturally on access land or is planted on such land before or after the new right comes into effect. As in general the Bill does not provide a right of access to woodland, it should follow that areas of woodland within parcels of access land should not be mapped as access land and that access land which subsequently becomes woodland--whether by natural regeneration or planting--should cease to be access land. It is not clear whether or not that will be the case. The best way to make the position of woodland clear would be to make it excepted land under Schedule 1 and the amendment is designed to achieve just that.

On Report, the Minister was asked whether the right of access would extend to common land which was wooded. He said:

"If it is woodland, which is not part of the increased right of access under the Bill unless it is voluntarily dedicated by the landowner, I imagine that the Bill would not give general access to it".--[Official Report, Commons, 13/6/00; col 807.]

If that is the case with common land covered by woodland, I suggest that it must be the same for any access land covered by woodland.

I accept that it would be impractical and undesirable to exclude access from small clumps of trees which have perhaps regenerated or been planted--that is why the amendment deals only with fenced woodland--but appropriate planting and natural regeneration should be encouraged. Indeed, English Nature was recently active in the North of England, involving itself with owners and occupiers to try to encourage such woodland on the edge or moorland. It has been most successful in that.

Furthermore, it should be realised that woodland is important for certain biodiversity action plan species, in particular the black grouse. Again, English Nature has been actively involved in trying to enhance that species through proper planting schemes. It should also be remembered that many woodland areas have been planted for opportunities for shooting. It is true to say that a large percentage of woodland has been developed with that specifically in mind.

I am concerned because any measures in the Bill which discourage small appropriate woodland planting would be a great shame. I suspect that if access provisions in the Bill were allowed to include woodland, much of it would cease. Therefore, I ask the Minister to consider the amendment. I hope that he agrees that it would be inappropriate for woodland on access areas to be included; in other words, the land should be exempt. I beg to move.