Amendment 257E

Environment Bill - Committee (7th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 12th July 2021.

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Lord Kerslake:

Moved by Lord Kerslake

257E: Clause 108, page 107, line 33, at end insert—“(2A) Before giving any guidance, the Secretary of State must undertake detailed consultation on the impact of the guidance with local authorities.”

Photo of Lord Kerslake Lord Kerslake Crossbench

My Lords, I first declare my interest as the recently stood-down president of the Local Government Association. My other interests are as listed in the register. I take this opportunity to apologise that a technical problem prevented me from speaking to my Amendment 201D last week. I plan to return to this on Report.

I shall speak today to two amendments in my name. Amendments 257E and 257F seek to require the Secretary of State to understand the impact of the new duty of consult residents on the felling of street trees on councils before the duty is set out in guidance and to allow a local highways authority to create a local exemption to the duty to consult. I am very conscious that I am tabling these amendments remotely from the city of Sheffield where the origins of Clause 108 probably lie. Although not directly involved, my family home is some 15 minutes’ walk from where some of the most contentious issues arose. Suffice it to say that the tree-felling debacle in Sheffield has been a particularly unhappy episode in the life of the city. I hope that the new Labour and Green Party administration can finally lay this issue to rest.

I can therefore well understand the desire to bring in greater requirements on councils to consult before trees are felled. However, I am concerned that, in addressing an issue particularly related to the actions of one council, we do not inadvertently create a whole set of other problems for other councils. Local authorities are responsible for the management of many thousands of trees, so this will not be a small issue. Councils generally work hard to protect and maintain the natural environment, including urban trees. That is why a lot of councils have set out their long-term vision for trees and are seeking ways to increase tree-planting, for example by working with local volunteer groups to promote trees and woodlands.

Tree preservation orders provide an established route for protecting trees as part of the local environment. Trees in conservation areas also benefit from protection in law. However, decisions on the felling of trees should ultimately remain a matter of local determination. There is a risk that the new duty will be bureaucratic, and a lot of care must be taken that it does not clash with the existing duties—for example, the statutory duty to consult if street trees are to be removed as part of a housing development.

As a whole, this Bill relies significantly on secondary legislation. We have seen quite a bit of detail on proposals to be enacted by regulation in other areas such as waste, but less in this case. My amendment would require the Government to consult fully with local government and others on the impact of the guidance before it is taken forward. It may be that the Minister can provide greater assurance today on this issue, which would make such an amendment unnecessary. I do not of course intend to push my amendment to a Division. However, it is an important issue: when we put forward legislation, we should have a clear understanding of how it will impact on individual areas up and down the country.

My second amendment, Amendment 257F, would allow local authorities to set exemptions locally, in addition to the reasons for exemptions set out in the Bill. Councils must have a workable set of exemptions, so that they can protect the public from harm and act quickly to prevent the spread of pests and diseases. I am concerned that the areas for exemption on the face of the Bill may be too narrowly defined and again have unintended consequences in their implementation.

These are two practical amendments about the delivery of policy that do not challenge the intent. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

My Lords, this is the tree group of amendments: we seem to have quite a large number of them clustered together. I declare my interest as chairman of the Woodland Trust.

My Amendment 258 would give protection to ancient woodland equivalent to that already provided for sites of special scientific interest. Ancient woodlands are at least 400 years old. By their very age, they are one of our most rich and complex communities of biodiversity, both above the ground and below in the soils and mycorrhizal communities. Many of them are also historically and socially important. They have the added value, these days, of continuing to sequester carbon every year that they continue in place. They are known as the cathedrals of the natural world. They are irreplaceable—if you plant a new wood, it will not be an ancient woodland for 400 years at least—yet over 1,200 ancient woodlands across the UK are currently under threat from development: mostly housing, roads and railways. Over the last 20 years, nearly 1,000 ancient woodlands have been permanently lost or damaged. Many of the remaining fragments are small and incredibly vulnerable to pressures from surrounding land or the built environment. They are often much loved, and trampled excessively out of love by dog walkers. They are damaged by fly-tippers and subject to drift from agricultural operations. They currently have inadequate protection, hence the 1,200 currently on the threat list.

Planners and developers are warned away from developing on ancient woodland in the National Planning Policy Framework, except in “wholly exceptional” circumstances. But the NPPF is not always observed and does not apply to major infrastructure projects—and who knows what will happen to the NPPF under planning reform? Developers and planners are supposed to consult the ancient woodland inventory in order to avoid trashing ancient woodland through their development. They can see where there is ancient woodland and try to avoid it. However, the inventory is pretty out of date, it was always geographically patchy, and it does not list a large number of small sites. Very late in the day, it is now slowly being updated.

My amendment seeks to use a well-known, long-standing and comparatively easy and effective model, the system used for protecting sites of special scientific interest, to protect ancient woodland. Planners and developers have been working with SSSI rules for 70 years. SSSI status was part of the post-war settlement introduced in 1949. It is a well-known process, so we would not be inventing new bureaucracy, simply adding gently to existing regulations. I am not saying by my proposal that ancient woodlands should meet the biodiversity standards outlined in SSSI regulations, but that all ancient woodlands entered on the ancient woodland inventory would be protected from development, would be monitored in respect of their condition and would be required to be managed to reach and maintain ecological status, under the same processes that are in place for SSSIs.

I hope the Minister will seek to assure me that the England trees action plan has lots in it to help protect ancient woodland by bringing in measures to support long-established woods—woods established before 1840—for example by bringing in schemes to increase buffering around the smaller fragments, and by the removal of inappropriate conifer overplanting on ancient woodland sites. We may see targets for ancient woodlands, but there is nothing quite like statutory protection on existing highly threatened sites, and it could be so simply achieved by my amendment to stop the rot. Otherwise, our children and their children will judge us harshly for our record of destruction of these very English cathedrals of the natural world. SSSIs were an iconic part of the post-war settlement. Let us have ancient woodland protection as an iconic part of the post-Covid settlement.

I turn to my Amendment 259 on a biosecurity standard when planting trees using public money. Tree disease resulting from importing seeds, young plants, and more mature stock from abroad has been disastrous for the health and existence of our woodlands, their biodiversity and our landscapes. There is now a pest or disease for virtually every species of native tree. Many noble Lords will remember Dutch elm disease and how dramatically it changed the nature of our landscapes. We now have oak diseases, oak processionary moth, and, of course, with ash dieback we will lose millions of ash trees and change the face of the countryside and its wildlife dramatically. The incidence of new pathogens entering the UK mirrors exactly the rise in plant imports.

Amendment 259 would require the Government to draw up and implement a biosecurity standard which would apply to all planting of trees and shrubs by Governments, their agencies and contractors. The standard would include a provision that all native tree stock would be “sourced from UK growers” and be certified as having been grown within the UK for its entire life. At the moment, stock moves backwards and forwards between the UK and Europe for stages of its rearing, with all the risks of tree disease importation. The amendment would be good for woods, trees, nature and landscapes, and would represent a major opportunity for job creation in an expanded UK tree nursery industry.

The Woodland Trust’s UK and Ireland sourced and grown assurance standards will have produced 27 million home-grown trees between 2014 and 2024. More and more nurseries are taking part. We applaud the Government’s commitment to an exponential uplift in the number of trees planted, in the interests of climate change and biodiversity, and major taxpayer money is going to be invested. So there is no time to lose. We need more than a voluntary scheme; we need a statutory basis for the standard. We need a clear future estimate of the number of trees required, so that nursery businesses can grow in the UK and get on with confidence to develop a UK-based capacity to meet the demand for safe trees.

My Amendment 260 places a duty on the Government to prepare, maintain and report on a tree strategy for England and to produce targets for the protection, restoration an expansion of trees in woodlands in England. I welcomed the Government’s recent England trees action plan, which is, to all intents and purposes, a tree strategy. But it is non-statutory and, as we all know, Governments come and go and Ministers come and go. I hope that the Government are going to be consulting on tree targets of the sort I have touched on. So, if there is to be a tree action plan and tree targets, why not just make them statutory? Can the Minister tell us why he is not keen on a statutory basis for these two issues?

I support Amendment 260A in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, to which I have put my name. We will be planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year to meet our carbon and biodiversity targets. This will be severely compromised if damage, not just by disease, but by deer in particular, is not reduced to below its current level. The standard proposed would need to be based on clear evidence on tree losses following proper assessment and to be set in a framework of landscape-scale deer management plans across multiple owners. As the noble Earl will no doubt say, part of the current problem is landowners who do not undertake control and who could wreck the efforts of others around them to control damaging pests such as deer. I therefore hope that he receives support for his amendment.

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Chair, European Union Committee, Deputy Chairman of Committees, Chair, European Affairs Committee, Chair, European Affairs Committee 7:00 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, who spoke with her typical authority and strong logic. I declare my interests as set out in the register, particularly those in respect of agriculture and as chair of UK Squirrel Accord, of which more later.

I shall speak to Amendment 260A, which stands in my name, and Amendment 259 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. One plank of this Bill is afforestation. We have heard much throughout the many days of debate on the Bill about the benefits of carbon capture and the biodiversity dividend of afforestation. It is worth recalling that the level of afforestation in the United Kingdom in 1919, just after the First World War, was just 5%. Today, it is 13%, but the 2021 EU factsheet on afforestation for the EU shows that it is 37% afforested. In his very good speech at Second Reading, my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington pointed out that it is important to balance food production with forestry on our limited land area, but I still feel that 13% is the wrong number and needs to go up significantly. I agree with many others who have said that over the course of our many days.

The problem is that simply planting trees is not enough. Amendment 260A is about the management of the main animal damage threats, while Amendment 259 is its biosecurity analogue. The squirrel problem is very simple in that grey squirrels ring-bark trees between the ages of about 10 and 40 and suck out the sap. This damages the trees and kills many of them. UK Squirrel Accord was formed five or six years ago to try to combat this at a UK level. It comprises the four Governments, their nature agencies, the main voluntary bodies and the main commercial sector bodies. There are 40 signatories overall. It seeks to co-ordinate not only communication among those bodies so that everybody knows what is going on but the use of science in controlling squirrels, and that science will of course be able to be used for the control of deer.

The key thing at the moment is the fertility control project, which is getting to the end of its third year at the Animal and Plant Health Agency’s main laboratories just outside York. The project will do exactly what it says on the tin, which is to control the fertility of grey squirrels and therefore shrink their numbers dramatically.

This year saw a very interesting piece of academic research by the Royal Forestry Society on the level of the problem that the grey squirrel poses to afforestation. It is called An Analysis of the Cost of Grey Squirrel Damage to Woodland. It is quite a lengthy report, and I shall not give your Lordships all the details, but 777 land managers were surveyed. They said clearly that the greatest threat to them in trying to grow woodland was the grey squirrel, and 56% of them said that they were experiencing damage quotients of between 35% and 100%, with only 14% feeling that the damage quotient was less than 5%. I should say in addition that the oak tree, which is one of the most iconic species for our country, is the greatest supporter of biodiversity, with some 2,000 species supported by oak trees.

The UK Squirrel Accord and its associated voluntary bodies are extremely worried about there being safe zones for squirrels because some people do nothing. The biggest problems we see in those safe zones are patrolled by Amendment 260A. First, if you have been in receipt of a grant or if you are a public body—this is a very big problem—you must comply with the animal damage protection standard. If you are somebody else, you will be encouraged to comply with it. Given those who are interested enough to participate in the UK Squirrel Accord, I think people will obey that, but I feel that some motorway and railway agencies in particular are doing nothing at the moment and therefore have a lot of safe harbours for the squirrel.

I will say a brief word on the cost of compliance. I congratulate the National Forest Company, which has employed volunteers to help with some of its control issues, greatly reducing any costs that may be involved. I believe there is a significant number of volunteers—the UK Squirrel Accord is very much in touch with them—who would assist with that and therefore help with the cost element.

I turn briefly to Amendment 259. I feel that the science will get there for Amendment 260A in the end, and we will have sufficient scientific weapons to be able to reduce the level of grey squirrels in the country so that it will be commercially possible to plant broadleaf trees in the south of England again. We will hear about that from later speakers. The difficulty is that the disease problems associated with importing trees, particularly pest problems such as the oak processionary moth, fill me with an appalling dread. Here I very much agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said just a moment ago. It is important to be a bit like a Chinese doctor and act before some of these problems arise, and act very strongly indeed. Both these amendments are enabling provisions for afforestation. We will not get there without them.

Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative

My Lords, I am very pleased to be able to follow the noble Earl. I declare an interest as an owner of a plantation on an ancient woodland site, mostly replanted in 1986. I reckon that my cumulative loss to squirrels is about 60%. There are areas of the wood where nothing has survived except the coppice regrowth, and a lot of that is damaged. I have been trying to control squirrels throughout that time. This is a really serious problem if we want to take trees seriously, particularly if we want them to be commercial. I therefore very much support Amendment 260A. It would be a really useful way to go, getting us all working together in the same direction.

Deer are important too. Those who know the border between Wiltshire and Dorset will know the troubles the RSPB has had in Garston Wood with the herd of fallow deer it had there. It got zero regeneration at the end of the day because there were just too many deer. It has now excluded them, which is not fun for the local farmers, but at least it solves the RSPB’s problem. However, generally we have to recognise our position in this ecosystem. We are very important as the top predators—the controller of what happens with herbivorous activity—and if we want particular species and kinds of things to grow, we must act on that responsibility.

We need to start to understand how regeneration is working around us. Oak regeneration does not seem to be happening at all, something that is echoed by other people in the south of England. I do not know what circumstances need to change to make the ecology right for that. These are things that, with a big ambition for forestry, we need to understand. We do not want to have to be for ever planting trees; we ought to be able to rely on a pattern of regeneration.

I am very much in favour of the direction of Amendment 259. We need to be quite strict about the diseases that we let into this country. We have a very limited degree of biodiversity when it comes to trees and shrubs; we have about 30 different ones, around one-tenth of what an ideal temperate woodland would have by way of variety—courtesy of the Ice Ages, mostly, and the opening of the Channel but also, subsequent to that, the effect that man has on restricting the natural movement of plant species. We need, as the Forestry Commission is setting out to do, to improve our genomic diversity within species as well as the number of species that we have.

While I do not at all resent the activities of the Romans and others in bringing across chestnuts, for instance, or the buddleia in my garden—a cousin to many that are spread over the south downs—I do not think additional biodiversity hurts us. We are a very impoverished ecosystem and should be able to stand some introductions—but not, please, diseases. We have seen the devastation caused by ash dieback around here in Eastbourne. With a limited ecosystem, each disease is a big hit, and we do not want to risk more of that because it will take a very long time before we have a more diverse forest population.

However, I am not convinced by Amendment 258. As I said, I own a plantation on an ancient woodland site, and an SSSI designation would be a disaster. There is so much needed to do to make it better. The point of an SSSI is that you pick on a bit of landscape that is as you wish it to be, and the focus is then on keeping it as it is and making it difficult for people to change it. A plantation on an ancient woodland site means a lot of restoration to do, and you do not need the level of bureaucracy that goes with being an SSSI. I would be happy to have something to give it greater protection against invasion by planners but not something that stops the woodland owner from making it a better wood.

Photo of Lord Teverson Lord Teverson Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee, Chair, EU Environment Sub-Committee

My Lords, I welcome this group on the subject of trees. As we know from the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and the Woodland Trust, which I think she chairs, only some 7% of our woodland is in good condition. We have a very small percentage of cover—13%—as has been noted by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and ancient woodland covers roughly 2.5% of our area.

I have put my name to Amendments 260 and 283, but I shall start with some comments on Amendments 258 and 259 about ancient woodlands and SSSIs. I very much take the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in that SSSIs can be complicated areas involving many rules. One issue that we have not tackled in the Bill, and which appals me, is that—if I have this right—the target by which to get 75% of SSSIs in good condition is 2045. I am sure the Minister will put me right if I am wrong, but it is an atrocious statement of where we are and where we intend to be if that is the case. Having said that, I can say on behalf of my colleagues that we would very much welcome this sort of amendment, even if it were not drafted exactly as at present.

In terms of biosecurity, too, I am very aware that the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner—who used to be Minister for Defra in this House and was replaced by the noble Lord, Lord Benyon—was a great advocate of biosecurity. I always looked forward to him coming to the Dispatch Box to reassure us that one of his key missions was to ensure that this country’s biosecurity was improved. As noble Lords have already said, this is a huge challenge, not just in terms of trees but in other areas as well. However, trees certainly focus this because they make such a big difference to the landscape. Where I live in Cornwall, I have some splendid ash trees along the frontage by the road. It would be a huge change for me and for the landscape if those disappeared. At the moment they are in good condition, but I expect that that will change at some season in the future. Again, I am sure that my colleagues are entirely behind finding a way of pushing forward this amendment.

On the amendments I have put my name to, I turn to Amendment 260 from the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, on a tree strategy. What she says makes a lot of sense. We all remember that there was almost an outbidding by political parties on tree planting in the last two general elections. I sometimes wondered where these trees were going to come from. What was the highest bid? I think we got into the billions, but I cannot remember. While one welcomes that competitive edge, the real issue is about delivery, followed by tree management, where they are planted, the types of species that are planted, and the balance between climate change, biodiversity and even the commercial sector, so that we know where we are going.

When it comes to moving those action plans into a proper strategy, strategies can often be made, forgotten and put on the shelf. However, I believe that that investment, which is for a hundred years, is a strategy that we understand; it is generally accepted and is based on the science and the nature recovery networks. This is something that I would welcome, and I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, will pursue it.

No one so far has talked about peatlands, which are dealt with in Amendment 283. I am very pleased to put my name to that amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. This is a very contemporary and high-profile issue. As I have said before, I had the privilege last month of going on to Bodmin Moor and seeing the peatland restoration there. It is a massive task that is gradually moving through our countryside, particularly in uplands, moorlands and such areas. We are working to protect biodiversity or, in many cases, using natural solutions to stop run-off and flooding downstream, as well as carbon sequestration, and these areas are jewels in our countryside and landscape. This is one of the habitats and ecosystems that is particularly important to the United Kingdom, and we hold a large proportion of global blanket peatlands.

We should protect these areas better. I find it very difficult to understand why we still permit peat burning in those areas. I understand why, commercially, that is often the case for grouse shooting in other areas, but this is clearly something that we need to change. We also need to change altogether peat extraction for horticultural purposes, where we have had a complete failure of voluntary schemes. I will be interested to hear from the Minister where we are on that as well.

I support this amendment very strongly, but may I ask Hansard just to stop reporting for a minute? I have an environmental confession to make. I used to be in the freight industry and I operated a transport depot very near to where my noble friend Lady Bakewell lives at the moment, on the Somerset Levels in a place called Bridgwater—that is Bridgwater in Somerset, where you do not have an “E” in the middle of the word; if you put one in, it is very bad. One thing that I used to transport was cut peat for horticultural purposes out of the Somerset Levels. I apologise to my colleague that I ever did that; it was before such things were even realised. But now we have no excuse for that sort of commercial activity. On that basis, I give complete personal backing to Amendment 283 from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch.

Photo of Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Deputy Chairman of Committees 7:15 pm, 12th July 2021

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, has withdrawn from this set of amendments, so I call the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, that decisions on the felling of roadside trees should remain a matter for local determination, and I support Amendment 257E. It is right that the Secretary of State should have to consult extensively with local authorities before he issues guidance on a public consultation, as provided for in Clause 108, which adds a new section to the Highways Act 1980. There is a risk that the new duty will be too bureaucratic, and care should be taken to ensure that any guidance issued does not encourage that.

I also support the noble Lord in his Amendment 257F, which allows local authorities to decide which exemptions there should be to the new duty to consult before felling any roadside trees. Councils should be free to take quick action to protect the public from harm, including against the spread of pests and diseases. Councils do not always get these things right, however, and the Committee may remember the outcry when South Tyneside Council cut down six horse chestnut trees to prevent children gathering conkers in 2004. At the time, my noble friend Lord Callanan was MEP for the north-east, and he described the pruning as

“the nanny state gone mad.”

He said that:

“In years gone by people didn’t try to rule lives in quite the same way as this. I wonder if the council will follow this to its natural conclusion and cut down all the trees in South Tyneside so that children won’t hurt themselves climbing up them.”

I hope that any guidance issued by the Secretary of State with regard to the felling of trees would aim to discourage councils from taking such disproportionate action to prevent the citizen from each and every risk he undertakes when he passes his garden gate.

As for Amendment 258 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, I think it may be unnecessary, because ancient woodland sites worthy of protection are already included within the category of sites of special scientific interest. I cannot see any sufficient reason to create a separate category of land— ancient woodland—which, as the amendment is drafted, does not even need to be of special scientific interest to qualify for Natural England’s protection.

I am not sure that I can support Amendment 259, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young. I understand that they think that a policy of diversity and freedom of movement, as far as flora and fauna are concerned, could introduce unwanted tree diseases, but could it not equally prevent the importing of other tree species with genetic resistance to diseases? What would Capability Brown and Humphry Repton have achieved without the exotic cedar of Lebanon or the magnificent Wellingtonia? I confess that I am sceptical about whether the Secretary of State’s adoption of a “biosecurity standard” would actually have a positive impact on the natural environment.

I have some sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her Amendment 260, because the tree strategy is perhaps too modest in its aim to raise England’s woodland cover from 10% to just 12% by 2050. The Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment was to plant 30,000 hectares of trees a year across the UK by 2025. It is therefore impossible to measure the extent to which the tree strategy meets the manifesto commitment, which sadly shows yet another instance where the devolved authorities will not, but should, co-operate together to agree on a single national tree strategy.

Sir William Worsley, chairman of the Forestry Commission, has said that it will work with the devolved Administrations to deliver a UK-wide step change in tree planting and establishment. I am not sure whether the England trees action plan is exactly the same as the proposed “Tree Strategy for England” from the noble Baroness, but given the number of statutory targets proposed in the Bill, the absence of one for trees seems to stand out. I look forward to hearing my noble friend the Minister’s views on this.

I also sympathise with Amendment 260A, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, my noble friends Lord Colgrain and Lord Caithness, and the noble Baroness, Lady Young. However, I am not quite sure how the standard would actually work. As the Committee is aware, deer and grey squirrels, among other species, can cause great damage to young trees. I worry that the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, now before your Lordships’ House, may become a medium for increasing restrictions on the control and culling of animals that cause damage to young trees. Does my noble friend the Minister recognise that the entire countryside and farming community would applaud him if he and my noble friend Lord Benyon were to make the sensible decision to withdraw that Bill and use the available parliamentary time to better effect?

Lastly, I will comment on Amendment 283, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and others. First, its heading refers to the burning of peat, but the text of subsection (1) refers to the burning of vegetation on peatland. As has been pointed out, the two are very different. The prohibition of the rotational burning of heather is likely to increase the burning of peat because old, dry heather is very susceptible to uncontrolled wildfires in the summer months, which are much more likely to lead to the burning of peat. My experience of assisting my father in managing moorland in Angus, in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, showed that the rotational burning of heather is hugely beneficial to biodiversity. Moorland where this is practised sustains much greater numbers of butterflies, caterpillars, hen harriers, golden plover, black game and short-eared owls, besides the obvious higher numbers of red grouse.

Could the Minister confirm his remark on 18 March, that the Government will

“continue to listen to the science and keep our policy and our minds open”?—[Official Report, 18/3/21; col. 529.]

In any event, I cannot support this amendment, which I think would have an effect that is the reverse of its mover’s intent.

Sitting suspended.

Photo of Lord Curry of Kirkharle Lord Curry of Kirkharle Crossbench 8:00 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. I wish to speak to Amendments 259 and 260 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and to comment on Amendment 260A in the name of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull. I once again state my interests, as far as this debate is concerned, as a trustee of Clinton Devon Estates and chair of the Cawood group.

Much comment has already been made in this debate about tree health, including the deep concern about biosecurity and tree diseases and the need for a tree strategy. Given the Government’s ambition to plant 30,000 hectares of trees each year to improve tree cover and for climate change mitigation, and with the perilous state of tree health in Britain, the need for a tree strategy is undeniable. As has been said already, it was a tragedy when we lost our elm trees to Dutch elm disease; what a lovely tree the elm is. Our ash trees are now at risk from ash dieback, not to mention our larch. We have in our garden an ash tree that will have to be felled soon because it is infected. A recent forecast predicted that more than 90% of ash trees will be taken out by ash dieback. Most of our fence lines—our field divisions—in Northumberland are populated by ash trees; it is the most dominant species. Many are mapped as part of stewardship audits and are the homes of little owls, for example, and many other species, so their disappearance will be a disaster both visually and environmentally, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, mentioned.

Biosecurity is so important. We must reduce our dependence on imported tree stock. As the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said, this does not mean that we need to ban imported trees completely, but a biosecurity plan would be able to identify the tree species that we could safely import. Outside the European Union, we can grow our own and in doing so support the rural economy. The Government should see this as yet another important opportunity.

The tree strategy should not only include our ambition to plant trees but incorporate the appropriate biosecurity measures and guidance on a species mix to minimise disease spread. I spent some time early last year in New Zealand, where large numbers of farms are being purchased and planted as part of a carbon offsetting scheme by global corporates. A lot of the planting has been indiscriminate, without due regard to soil type or carbon sequestration potential and without assessing the risk of disease. We must not make these mistakes. Identification of land quality in areas suitable for growing a specific mix of tree species to optimise long-term carbon sequestration is essential. To plant vast areas of land with tree cover—30,000 hectares a year, for example—to ease our climate change conscience and potentially become part of the carbon market without clear guidance on tree species and topography would be hugely irresponsible.

This strategy would help to reduce this risk and hopefully maximise the benefits: economic benefits; environmental benefits in terms of both carbon and biodiversity; and, importantly, public access benefits. The adequate protection of trees from a variety of predators is of course also essential, as suggested in Amendment 260A, and could be part of a tree strategy. I encourage the Minister to think about this very seriously indeed.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. I rise to commend the statements by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and her excellent moving of the amendments. She set out the case admirably. I also agree with what was said by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and just now by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle.

I strongly believe that ancient woodlands must be protected where possible since they cannot be created except through a process that takes 400 to 500 years. This means that all developments that would remove them or parts of them or damage them must be avoided, and only in very exceptional circumstances should an ancient woodland be harmed. There should be a presumption against all developments affecting them.

The suggestion by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, in Amendment 258 is ingenious and I have some sympathy with it. However, I am not certain that classifying every ancient woodland site—I think she mentioned 1,200 of them—that has been wooded since 1600 AD as an SSSI automatically is the right answer. As I understand it—I think the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, made this point—there is nothing to prevent any woodland being classified as an SSSI right now if it meets the current criteria. I would prefer to see ancient woodlands assessed individually and, if suitable, declared—each one on its merits—an SSSI. I must also say to the noble Baroness that I do not think that it is legally possible to mass nominate dozens or even hundreds of pieces of land and to do it en masse, whatever features are on them.

As someone on the board of Natural England who has to decide on new SSSIs or extensions to them, I can tell the House that it is an incredibly detailed and exacting procedure. Officials must produce reams and reams of scientific justification and strict legal protocols must be followed, with all affected landowners entitled to make representations and appeals. If over that two or three-year process we put one foot wrong, we are straight into judicial review territory, which I should say has never happened yet. There might be an argument for simplifying the procedure—we certainly need to do that in the case of declaring new national parks or AONBs—but, for the moment, we have to follow the current law. Thus, while the noble Baroness’s amendment is ingenious, it will not stand up.

On Amendment 259, I am 100% behind her. This is not a “little Englander” new clause. For tens of thousands of years, our native fauna have survived and developed in a habitat of native British flora. Putting it simply, we cannot have red squirrels unless we have the native woods producing the nuts, fruits and seeds they normally eat. The Back from the Brink project to recover 20 species from near extinction depends on native habitats. As colleagues will know, we face an increasing threat from diseases unwittingly imported along with plants sourced from abroad. Even if we step up biosecurity now that we have left the EU, there will still be an enormous risk of bringing in destructive bugs and diseases. Nearly every single disease or bug that has destroyed our UK trees has been imported. If Xylella fastidiosa—the most dangerous and lethal plant disease in the world—gets here, God help us. It can kill 595 different plant species in 85 different botanical families. Our countryside and all our gardens would become wastelands.

No matter how good port control might be, even if it is beefed up from the current inadequate levels, we cannot stop bugs and diseases coming in. Contractors will want to source the millions of trees and bushes needed for HS2 or Highways England road schemes from the cheapest suppliers. At the moment, they are the huge Dutch growers; that is where diseases will come in. This is why a requirement on acquiring plants from UK sources is so important. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, said, it will also be good business for UK nurseries, which can easily supply all that would be required in due course.

We have a huge range of UK native trees, and there is no excuse not to use them: noble Lords need only look at the Woodland Trust website to see the range of native species and all the animal, bird, butterfly and other species that depend on our native flora for survival.

Finally, I want to support Amendment 260A. We will never achieve a fraction of the new woodlands that we wish to create unless we deal with rabbits, which are no longer much of a problem, and grey squirrels and deer, which are. One day in 1990, the then Minister of Agriculture, John Gummer MP, asked me, as junior Minister, to go through the MAFF research budget and root any unnecessary or wasteful research. Among others, I found a £250,000 programme researching the effect of rabbits on new woodlands schemes, which the department was funding. There was also one on controlling rabbits, which had been on the go since the 1940s, and another that was also running at £250,000 per annum and was on something that I cannot recall. I called in officials and said, “Have you found that rabbits are eating the bark of new saplings and killing them?” They looked surprised and asked if I had seen the report’s preliminary findings. Remaining remarkably calm for me in the circumstances, I pointed out that I was a countryman and did not need to spend £250,000 to discover that rabbits eat the bark of young trees.

When I spoke to officials on rabbit control, they informed me that there had been a marvellous breakthrough in that contraceptive pills were now 100% effective if eaten by the rabbits—but they could not find any way to make the rabbits eat them. I said that we did not need to spend another £250,000 researching the effects of ferrets and shotguns on rabbit populations, which had been proven to work in the past. But the problem was—and I think still is—that the department, understandably, was looking for huggy, squeezy, nice ways to control rabbits, and we have the same attitudes today dealing with grey squirrels, the destructive American tree rats. I recommend that the Minister have a word with the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, who ran a highly successful programme to deal with grey squirrels in Northumberland. With proper funding, that should be replicated throughout the country.

We also need to eliminate the Chinese muntjac deer. They are not a native species, either, and the damage they do to our native flora is immense. I quoted that story about rabbits, but rabbits are not the main problem now: squirrels and deer are. The point is that for over 40 or 50 years we have been researching how to deal with rabbits and have not got the solution. I wonder how many years we have been researching dealing with grey squirrels. We cannot wait another 40 years until we find a solution. This proposed new clause cleverly does not state what the solution should be, but that there has to be an animal damage protection standard. That is a clever way to tackle the problem and I commend it.

To conclude the anecdote of the never-ending Ministry of Agriculture rabbit research programme, I told that story in 1998 to the new Minister, who is now the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, who chuckled and said, “Don’t worry, David, we’re not so daft as to do that.” Two weeks later, he came steaming up to me and said, “You’ll not believe this, we’re still spending £700,000 on rabbit research”. Policies and Ministers change, but academic research goes on for ever. I am told that there has been an amazing scientific breakthrough in dealing with squirrels. The current research shows that contraceptive pills for grey squirrels, I can tell the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, are apparently 100% effective—but they still cannot get the squirrels to eat them. It will take 10 more years of research, the experts will no doubt advise the Minister to pay for. Omnia mutantur nihil interit: Everything changes but nothing is lost.

Photo of The Earl of Devon The Earl of Devon Crossbench

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. Much of what I was going to say has already been said by more eminent voices than mine, and, given that I have the lead amendment in the final group this evening, I will cut my comments quite short. I support the efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to introduce a national tree strategy for England. If she does not achieve her national land-use strategy, this might very well be the next best thing. We need a consensus that is locally informed but nationally co-ordinated, so that all areas of England can grow the trees that their local topography, climate and land-use heritage recommend.

I am also fully supportive of the thoughtful Amendment 260A, which was well introduced by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, regarding animal damage. There is simply no point in planting broad-leaf trees in the south-west of England on a commercial basis these days, as squirrels and deer execute them long before they become viable.

Biosecurity is also vitally important, but we cannot prohibit or unduly limit the importation of trees from abroad for two principal reasons. First, we simply do not have the nursery infrastructure to grow sufficient stock on these shores to satisfy the demand, if the Government’s ambitious planting strategies are to be fulfilled. Secondly, our national forest is strengthened by the introduction of foreign species: it improves resilience and, with global warming an inevitability, we need to be planting tree species in the south of England that can withstand warmer weather during the 250-plus years that some of the broad-leafs should stand.

Finally, as for the controlled burning of peat and Amendment 283, given that this is not a common land-management practice in Devon, which has no native grouse, I should probably keep out of the debate. However, on Dartmoor and Woodbury Common we see increasing wildfire each summer, burning vital peat habitats, often many metres deep, with terrible environmental consequences and the release of vast quantities of carbon. If controlled surface burning of excessive vegetation would decrease the likelihood of this happening, while also encouraging young growth, I do not see that it should be precluded.

Photo of The Duke of Wellington The Duke of Wellington Crossbench 8:15 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, I support Amendment 259, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. It is tragic how many of our native trees have died and are dying from imported diseases. I hope that the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, will not mind me gently correcting him on one point. The giant sequoia tree—known in this country as the Wellingtonia—was imported from California many years after Capability Brown and Humphry Repton. I also support Amendment 260A, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and particularly the need, as has been mentioned by a number of noble Lords, to try to find a way to control grey squirrels, who are certainly destructive of so many tree species in this country.

I now turn to Amendment 283 and wish to pose some questions. The amendment has been tabled by the much-respected noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I often agree with them on their amendments, but on this one I fear it is far too complex a matter to be solved simply by a ban on burning heather, bracken and other vegetation. I must make it clear that I have no interest to declare, other than that one of my children is trying in Scotland—which I think is outside the scope of this Bill—to regenerate heather in an area where there are no grouse and have not been for many decades. So far there, they have not burnt heather but are experimenting with cutting. Heather burning has become controversial, but it has been used for generations for moorland management and often in areas where there are no grouse.

I commend to noble Lords two papers that I have read recently. One is entitled “Experimental evidence for sustained carbon sequestration in fire-managed, peat moorlands”, published in Nature Geoscience in December 2018, and I quote from it:

“we quantify the effects of prescribed burning … and show that the impacts … are not as bad as is widely thought.”

The second paper I commend is the report of the Molland Moor project on Exmoor, where also there is no grouse interest. This study was co-ordinated by the Exmoor National Park Authority and brought together landowners, conservationists, farmers, ecologists and academics. The lessons learned from the project include:

“We can regenerate heather by burning on as large a scale as possible … We can control the Molinia and reduce the stands of bracken”.

The report comments that it is necessary to micromanage each small area, as there are so many variables. It continues:

“National policy makers must understand this. Molland Moor is hugely different” from the moor next door.

In March, we debated the Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations 2021, which ban the burning without licence of heather on peat over 40 centimetres in depth, on sites of special scientific interest, in special areas of conservation and in special protection areas. In that debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, talked with local knowledge about terrible wildfires on Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, described a horrendous fire in Caithness and Sutherland in 2019. It burned for six days and emitted 700,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. I mention these fires as there is plenty of evidence that controlled burning in relatively small strips at the right time of year and in the right place creates, among other outcomes, firebreaks against wildfires. The risk of wildfires is greater on unmanaged moorland, as old heather becomes woody and tinder-dry. Wildfires do much more damage to peat and to the environment generally than controlled, limited burns, sometimes described as “cool burns”.

All I am saying, and I repeat that I have no direct interest, is that this is a complicated matter on which the science is still evolving. Therefore, to include a ban in the Bill would be inappropriate. I suggest to Ministers that they consider and gather more evidence. Clearly, there should be rules, and perhaps they should be in a future regulation, but such rules must recognise that no two areas of land are ever exactly the same. Of course, this general point may be one of the difficulties of the new environmental land management schemes.

In conclusion, I could not support Amendment 283, but I look forward to hearing the Minister’s view.

Photo of Baroness Boycott Baroness Boycott Crossbench

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. I absolutely agree with him that no two pieces of land are exactly the same.

I support Amendment 260 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Jones, the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in particular proposed subsection (3) about the percentage of native woodland and the new native woodland that is achieved by natural regeneration.

I draw the Committee’s attention to the work of Professor Simard at the University of British Columbia. When she was 20, she was put to work on commercial forestry—the process of clear-cutting large areas of old-growth forest and planting individual seedlings, pine or birch, in neat and regimented rows. The thinking was that, without any competitors, trees would grow faster, taller and stronger. Instead, they were more frequently found to be vulnerable to disease and climatic stress than the older trees, which shared their patch of soil with other plants, mosses, firs and associated lifeforms. In particular, she studied the newly planted Douglas firs—great giants which provided valuable wood to the logging companies. Ten per cent of those plants invariably got sick and died whenever nearby aspen, paper birch and cottonwood were removed. Initially, when she was 20—she is now 60—she did not know why, because the trees had plenty of light and water, more than the old trees in the crowded forest. She worked through her life and in the end revealed and became the inventor of what is known as the “wood wide web”. The forest, she wrote, is like the internet, but instead of computers linked by radio waves, the trees are connected by fungi. There are centres and satellites, with the oldest trees as the biggest communication hubs. When the piece with her theory was published in Nature in 1997, it had that title of “Wood Wide Web”, and the name has stuck.

Once the underground pattern is understood, it is easy to see how seedlings can emerge in clear ground, because they have been nurtured underground by other trees, waiting for their moment to start growing. They are being fed by the mother trees—the central hub that the saplings and seedlings spring from—with threads of different fungal species, of different colours and weights, linking them layer upon layer in the strong and complex web. When the forest is cleared and the mother trees are cut down, the forests lose their way.

Professor Simard’s discoveries have kept coming, and she now finds that trees support each other in times of stress, drought or disease, and they can communicate needs and send supplies. Since Darwin, biologists have always maintained that survival is all about the selfish gene, doing anything to get ahead in the evolutionary race. But her work tosses that on its head.

We now understand that monocultures, whether of crops, trees or any plant species, are not healthy. My plea would be that in the tree strategy we understand that all new planted forests and woods must be of multiple trees. I absolutely agree with the noble Earl, Lord Devon, when he says we should start experimenting with trees, especially in the south of England, that will thrive in our newly warmed environment. But please do not let us spend all our tree-planting money on monocultures which end up leaving dead soil beneath that is not home to myriad mosses and animals and, in fact, ends up sequestering much less carbon than a mixed forest growth.

Photo of Lord Colgrain Lord Colgrain Conservative

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. I have pleasure in supporting my noble friend Lord Kinnoull on his Amendment 260A.

The Government are setting ambitious tree-planting targets in their various plans, which is to be lauded, but those targets in England are not only not being met but, frankly, are being missed by a mile. Partly, this is to do with the delay in providing the much sought-after grant details associated with ELMS. More importantly, in my view, it is to do with the two uncontrolled destroyers of trees: deer and grey squirrels. I know there is a body of opinion that views these two mistily as Bambi or Landseer’s “The Monarch of the Glen”, or Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin. But the reality, I am sorry to say, is that these pests have assumed the characteristics of vermin and, between them, have made the planting of trees in many parts of England a completely uneconomic proposition.

There are now more deer in the wild in England than in the Middle Ages, and climate change will only help expand their number. By way of example, in west Kent, Knole Park had a very nice deer herd. The deer fences were completely obliterated in the hurricane of 1987, and those 600 deer became the foundation of the indigenous population of fallow deer in our part of Kent. I am sure the same has been true of many other deer parks. In answer to the comment from the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, about SSSIs: a piece of council land that was adjacent, that was an SSSI, was also completely obliterated in that hurricane. The council has no money to replant that, and therefore it is never going to come back as the SSSI it once was. Looking forward to 2045, I do not think it is reasonable to assume it will, to be honest.

The grey squirrel population, not indigenous but an import gone feral, has exploded in number, to the detriment of the red squirrel, all bird life—eggs and chicks—and, most importantly, trees. Until the Government contribute to taking responsibility for its control, woodland owners, whether in the public or private sector, are being asked to put good money after bad. This amendment is intended to address this. The animal protection standard, as proposed, would ensure some accountability for public funds. It would ensure that land owned by the Government, local authorities, the Forestry Commission and agencies owning or operating public roads and railways would be obliged to undertake control against deer and grey squirrels. Given the parlous state of the public finances and, in particular, the demands being placed on the funds of local authorities, this amendment would necessitate proper commercial audit funds being invested in woodland, rather than have tree planting be a palliative feel-good factor.

Some will see this amendment as of little consequence, but the outcome is that the money invested in the planting of trees without these protections will result in silviculture that lacks its commercial production potential. It would also lack aesthetic appeal, with dead and dying trees providing the possibility of injury to the passing public, and increasing numbers of deer causing more and more road accidents. The private sector is doing what it can to control numbers by shooting and, in the case of grey squirrels, trapping and poisoning, and the work being done with Defra funding to find a sterilisation or fertility vaccine, following successful trials in the US, is to be welcomed. I assure my noble friend Lord Blencathra that if they are successful in that, I will get the squirrels in west Kent to eat what they are being asked to eat.

Private landowners need to know that if they are successful in controlling or even reducing deer and squirrel numbers, their efforts are being complemented by the measures proposed in this amendment to reduce public land providing sanctuary to these pests. Why would my noble friend the Minister not wish to support this amendment?

Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Chair, Built Environment Committee, Chair, Built Environment Committee 8:30 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Colgrain, and I add that deer are a problem in my part of Wiltshire. Unfortunately, they also eat my roses.

I am very glad to speak on the subject of trees, which make Britain so special, captured for eternity by John Constable and indeed by David Hockney. In my career at Defra, I legislated for and launched the farm woodland scheme, which encouraged the planting especially of native oak and beech trees on agricultural land, working with Natural England’s very professional predecessors. We also had a 33,000-hectare planting target for the Forestry Commission, which was quite forward looking, if one thinks about it.

Turning to the proposals before us, my impression is that local authorities and highways authorities are paying more and more attention to the need to conserve trees, so is there really a case for the heavy-handed and detailed regulation in Clause 109? There is a cost, not least to local authorities, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, that there should be consultation on any guidance. Assuming that there is a harm and that the case is made for new powers, I would be grateful for some idea from my noble friend the Minister of the caseload expected. How will the consultation take place? For example, will there be a paper notice on the tree or nearby lamp-post? Will there be any statutory consultees and how long will it take for approvals to be given? I would also welcome confirmation that the pruning of trees will not be affected and will indeed be encouraged. In my experience, councils do not keep up to date with this at all well. Indeed, I have personal experience of an overhanging tree that was missed two or three years ago, and which is causing a lot of trouble to adjoining houses, notably mine.

We also need to be aware that nature is not the only objective in road maintenance. The safety of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers is important too. The latest fashion for leaving roadsides uncut can be dangerous, certainly in the lanes around my home in Wiltshire. The lusty green growth on banks and hedges makes it tight for passing cars and can hide cyclists, causing accidents.

Turning to the important issue of cost-benefit, apparently the costs for the felling proposals total £81 million over 10 years if you top up the figures in annexe 41, on page 260 of the statement of impacts. I await a reply from officials as to whether it is right to tot them up in that way, but I think that the costs will be significant. Can we really justify this, or should we be finding a simpler way to deal with the problem of the cutting down of trees alongside housing?

Still on the subject of trees, I should add that I could not find an impact assessment on the forestry provisions in Clause 109 and Schedule 16, which are not being discussed. These appear to introduce very wide-ranging powers to regulate and perhaps ban imports of products such as beef, rubber or soya that might be associated with wide-scale conversion of forest. One obviously understands and supports the rationale for this—saving the rainforests—but it could have a huge impact on business and trade if done in the wrong way. The Bill’s impact assessment is of course out of date because it was prepared on 3 December 2019, and the Bill has not made as rapid progress as we would all have hoped. Is there a late addition on the forestry risk commodity proposals that could be shared with us before Report?

In closing, I recognise the significance of the Bill and my noble friend’s understandable wish to progress it, but there are many uncertainties for us to swallow because of the use of delegated powers. Even affirmative resolutions, favoured by my noble friend Lord Blencathra, do not allow amendment to a set of regulations in the light of parliamentary scrutiny, and it is very unusual for draft regulations to be withdrawn. That applies to the trees regulations as well as to several other sets.

That is why, on Wednesday, I shall be moving an amendment to sunset individual regulations after a five-year period to allow a review of such provisions in the light of a cost-benefit analysis. An amendment of this type might help to make some of us happier with the wide-ranging powers being taken here and the lack of clear plans showing how many of them will be deployed to deal with the sort of issues being raised in this group of amendments and elsewhere in the Bill.

Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench

I support Amendments 258 to 260 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. Amendment 258 would place ancient woodlands, which are clearly defined in the amendment, on an equal footing with sites of special scientific interest. The reason why it is so important to preserve ancient woodlands from the point of view of biodiversity, climate change, heritage and health of both nature and human beings has already been well spelt out, and I shall not repeat it. I shall add only that their significance is perhaps even greater than that of sites of special scientific interest; and the reasons put forward for why such sites need to be protected are perhaps even stronger in the case of ancient woodlands.

Amendment 259 requires the Government to implement a tree-planting standard that makes biosecurity an essential consideration—in particular, protecting our native trees from diseases coming from outside the UK. This welcome amendment relates to Amendment 31, on tree health, standing in my name and debated earlier in Committee. Amendment 31 stated:

“The Secretary of State must by regulations set targets in respect of trees, including targets on the overall health of tree populations, particularly in respect of native species, research into disease-resistant varieties, and progress in planting disease-resistant varieties.”

Sadly, as has been said many times this evening, the trees in this country are in a terrible state. A few years ago, as we know, the magnificent English elm, such a feature of our landscape when some of us were young, was completely wiped out by Dutch elm disease. Most recently, ash dieback has swept the whole country, from the east coast to the west coast, in just a few years, leaving a trail of thin, leafless branches. Our oaks are suffering from a blight, and so are our chestnuts.

The health of our trees must be a fundamental consideration in assessing the overall health of our environment. Ash dieback originated in Asia, where it has little impact on the local species, and has moved steadily west where, sadly, it has a deadly impact on native ash. Coming, I believe, from trees imported from Holland to East Anglia as recently as 2012, it has left a terrible trail, which breaks one’s heart to see, as I see it in west Wales.

In a highly globalised world, our native trees, like the human population, are increasingly vulnerable and susceptible to diseases, which may do little harm elsewhere but which are killers here. The need for tight biosecurity regulations and a clear standard of what is required is obvious. This requires an overall strategy, involving not just government but other public authorities, and the amendment sets that out clearly. I very strongly support it.

I also strongly support Amendment 260, which requires the Government to have a tree-planting strategy that contains targets for the protection, restoration and expansion of trees and woodland in England. This chimes in well, but in much more valuable detail, with an earlier amendment in my name, Amendment 12, on the planting of new trees. There I set out the reasons why we need to plant new trees—reasons mainly to do with climate change, which I shall not repeat here. The amendment before us requires the Government to have targets. Where I believe my earlier amendment has something to add to the present one is that that Amendment 12 said

“The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament, and publish, a statement containing information about progress towards meeting any targets set under subsection (3)(e) on an annual basis after any initial target is set (in addition to the requirements under section 5).”

Climate change is a threat of such urgency now that it is not adequate just to have targets. We need an annual report to Parliament on the progress being made to meet those targets, and this my earlier amendments sought to ensure. However, this present amendment is very welcome indeed because it sets out in detail what such a target should include, and I strongly support it.

Photo of Lord Hope of Craighead Lord Hope of Craighead Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords), Chair, High Speed Rail (West Midlands - Crewe) Bill Select Committee (Lords)

It is a pleasure to follow the noble and right reverend Lord. I support the general message conveyed by most of the amendments in this group, but I single out for special mention Amendments 258 and 260 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and Amendment 260A in the name of my noble friend Lord Kinnoull.

Amendment 258 seeks to place ancient woodlands on an equal footing with sites of special scientific interest. I have to confess that it was not until I was introduced to them when I was sitting on the HS2 committee that I became truly aware of what ancient woodlands are and how much they contribute to the biodiversity of our countryside. However, that introduction made a very real impression on me, as the evidence drew my attention to what was being lost as ancient woodlands—fortunately in very small sections in my case—were being given up to make way for the railway: a matter that I know is of great concern to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. I have taken a close interest in them ever since, whenever I can get out into the countryside.

As I have said on several previous occasions, ancient woodlands are not just about trees; they are, in short, havens of biodiversity of a kind that has been built up over centuries. It is all too easy to overlook what is going on at ground level. As the years go by, leaves fall, the ground lies undisturbed and a carpet is built up which gathers together a huge variety of wildlife within the soil and on its surface. There is much else above ground level, too, in the trees themselves, in that they provide food and shelter for other creatures. The older they are, the richer the habitat becomes. You cannot create, or indeed recreate, such an environment overnight, or even in a few decades. That is why we must redouble our efforts to preserve what remains of this part of our heritage as much as we can.

Of course, many sites of special scientific interest contain ancient woodlands. Indeed, in their case it is the woodlands themselves and the biodiversity that goes with them that justifies their listing in such sites. However, size matters when it comes to the listing of SSSIs and, indeed, the other elements of diversity. Many areas of ancient woodland are too small to justify that kind of listing. However, I wonder whether that is a reason for discarding the idea that they are entitled to special protection. It may be that to protect every single one of them in the kind of scheme that is referred to in this amendment goes a little too far, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, suggested. However, I would be very reluctant to rely simply on SSSIs as a means of protecting ancient woodlands. More needs to be done, which is why I support the thinking behind this amendment.

Amendment 260 would require the Government to prepare a tree strategy for England. This is another much-needed addition to what we can provide to preserve and enrich this resource. Steps, however, also need to be taken to greatly improve the protection we afford to trees, especially new trees, against animal damage. That is subject of Amendment 260A. I pay tribute to how the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, introduced his amendment, and to the work he is doing to draw attention to what is needed for their care and management. His particular concern is damage by grey squirrels. Where I am, which is not all that far away from he is just now, is too high for squirrels; our problem is damage by brown hares, though I would certainly not wish to eliminate brown hares. Whatever the cause, more needs to be done to bring this problem to the attention of those who ignore it, with the results that the noble Earl has mentioned.

The creation of new native woodland by tree planting and natural regeneration is, of course, desirable. It is not, however, without some deficits to the wider environment that would need to be addressed in any tree strategy. I draw attention to two of them, to emphasise the need for a carefully planned, properly resourced and worked-out strategy.

The first problem that concerns me is the protection against animal damage that is given to new trees. Until now, we have almost always relied on plastic tubes to protect them; these are unsightly and not biodegradable. Too often, if the trees do not take, we are left with row upon row of tubes that disfigure the scenery. Even if the trees do take, it is years before these cones split and are eventually covered up. Other means, surely, must be found, that provide a more environmentally friendly way of doing the same job.

The second problem that concerns me relates to the extent of natural regeneration. This will almost always require the culling of deer and other animals, or at least fencing to keep them out. That, however, comes at a cost. A balance needs to be struck between the priority that is given to trees and the losses that flow from the exclusion of grazing animals. Grass cover that is out of control makes it impossible for low-growing flowers to flourish. I know several areas where what was once rich meadow land has become a kind of desert for the botanist, as trees and grasses spread out of control. Areas once rich with thyme, field gentian, centaury and harebell, for example, are at risk of being lost to that kind of resource for ever. We should not allow that to happen. Perhaps more can be done by using sheep in small numbers to control the grasses in these areas, because the loss of flower diversity is as much a matter of concern as that of trees. These are just two reasons why a strategy for trees is so important. We need more trees--but we need to pay careful attention to how this resource is to be provided.

Photo of Lord Inglewood Lord Inglewood Non-affiliated 8:45 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead. He invariably has something interesting to say and, normally, when I find it is not interesting, it is about legal matters, but that is because I cannot understand what he is saying. That is my fault. I refer to my interests in the register, particularly in forestry. I begin by underlining my support for trees, tree planting and ancient woodlands for all the obvious, well-understood and generally accepted reasons.

I particularly underscore my support for the amendments of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, about pests and squirrels because, if they are not kept under control, tree planting is very difficult. I equally support his remarks and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, about stock and phytosanitary protection. It is important to point out that this is not simply a matter of having legislation in place—you need an Administration that can act when appropriate. While we were members of the EU, the phytosanitary rules would have enabled us to put stipulations in place about importing foreign stock if we were concerned about health. It did not happen because the relevant part of Defra did not do anything about it.

My focus this evening is on trees and forestry strategy, in particular the mechanics of delivering whatever detailed strategy may be put in place, rather than the ostensible purpose of the strategy itself. In many ways, this is more difficult to get right than working out the specific target to achieve. In the case of forestry, we are looking for a considerable increase in the area of the country’s land surface growing trees. Trees, however—this point was very well made by the noble Lord, Lord Curry of Kirkharle—come in different types and configurations. They can be planted in large blocks, known as forests, in smaller parcels, normally known as woods, or individually. The issues they pose, as a number of speakers have said, are slightly different in urban and rural locations. These nuances need careful thought and to be built into the policy.

On top of this, increased tree planting impinges on other land uses and livelihoods either based directly on it or derived at arm’s length from it. For example, in the Lake District, which I know well, the visitor economy is dependent on the open fells. If such land is planted up, regardless of any other consideration, it may have a serious impact on other apparently superficially separate sectors of the economy. Similarly, obviously, most tree planting, which costs money, is likely to take place on land currently in agriculture. How is this migration going to be effected? Is it by making tree planting more attractive or farming less so? We know that traditional farming is facing a gloomy outlook, which is frightening many farming families. Perhaps we may see some development of the EU system of cross-compliance.

In this country, certainly since the town and country planning system came into place, rural Britain has been seen as what I might describe as the natural location for agricultural forestry. Now public policy appears to be concluding that we need less farming and more forestry in rural Britain; they are no longer as evenly balanced as they used to be. In the 18th and 19th centuries in England, the enclosure movement was precipitated by a change in farming practice responding to the increased demand for food brought about by the Industrial Revolution. These changes, which introduced a new economic and social dynamic into rural Britain, seem somewhat similar to those we are considering in this particular push for forestry and, probably more widely, in the approach to the environment.

The changes I have referred to caused, in turn, a real revolution in rural livelihoods, rural land use, rural communities and rural land ownership. That is widely recognised and understood. Are these things that the Government are happy to bring about, either as a result of these policies or as a necessary precondition of their policies achieving what they are setting out to do? In north-east Cumbria, small farmers who now see no future for their current activities are selling out to large forestry companies. Do the Government support this, do they think it is a bad development or are they more or less indifferent to it, considering it a matter solely for the invisible hand of the market?

It seems to me that the lesson of the enclosure movements, and then the system of town and country planning, is that changes in land use can have very far-reaching changes in rural Britain. These go far beyond the specific change itself. In this context, the question I pose to the Government is: in their policy for increased tree planting and forestry, do they consider the inherent and inevitable collateral consequences for the wider rural economy to be an integral part of tree and forestry strategy, meriting at least as much consideration as the planting of the trees themselves?

Photo of Lord Carrington Lord Carrington Crossbench

My Lords, it is a challenge to follow a contribution as knowledgeable as that which we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood. I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular as an owner of both ancient and not-so-ancient woodland. I will speak to Amendments 258, 259 and 260, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone. While understanding their worthy intention, I oppose them, but I give my full support to Amendment 260A of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, as will become clear.

My reasons for opposing Amendments 258, 259 and 260 are as follows. With regard to Amendment 258, I agree with almost every word that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Lucas. There is much misunderstanding of the words “ancient woodland”. A great many woods listed as “ancient woodland” are not ancient at all, although they may occupy the site of a wood that once met that description.

In England, during the first half of the last century, many of these woods were clear-felled, principally due to the exigencies of war. After the Second World War, many farmers and landowners who were, like others, desperately short of cash, sold or leased their woods to the Forestry Commission, which then planted them according to the norms of the time, which often meant Corsican pine, spruce and similar species, without sufficient regard for their suitability or the location. Much of that woodland has been felled in its turn, and new trees, often native species, have been planted.

All I am saying is that we should be careful about how we envisage ancient woodlands. They are often anything but ancient and often distinctly commercial, so placing them on the same level as an SSSI is not always appropriate and could be distinctly counter- productive if they are to be managed commercially.

Amendment 259 is much more worthy of support, with its objective of preventing the importation of diseases, but I cannot accept a situation where native broad-leaved trees and shrubs are sourced only from UK growers and grown within the UK for their entire life. I will give two reasons. First, with our huge tree-planting ambitions—in particular in urban planting, where more mature trees are required—domestically sourced trees are unlikely to be able to fulfil this requirement for many years, as has already been said by the noble Earl, Lord Devon.

Secondly, surely science and gene editing will steadily improve the safety of imports? With the effects of climate change, we need to look at importing trees grown in more southerly climates, as mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. Obviously, we need to stringently inspect and test such imports, but please do not forget that ash dieback was spread by wind, not soil.

I was hoping to hear from the proposers of Amendment 260 who would do all the work, and with what resources. Setting out the vision, objectives and policies is pretty simple, but that cannot be said of assembling the underlying information to see what targets are achieved. No doubt it is fine in the case of woodland and forestry owned by the Forestry Commission and other institutional owners such as the Woodland Trust, but think of the burden that this imposes on private owners without access to the generous taxpayer or charitable or institutional funding. Some of the information required may also be of dubious value. I hate to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, but there is a problem in proposed new subsection 3(c) on woodland creation achieved from natural regeneration. Where I live, the natural regeneration at present is almost exclusively ash, which is unlikely to survive Chalara.

The concentration on maintenance is vital, but it is an impossible task without serious action being taken to control pests, which is why I support Amendment 260A. In my part of the Chilterns, a large forestry management business is refusing to grow beech again until the grey squirrel is controlled. At present, beech is just squirrel food. This involves tough decisions that are unlikely to be taken if the public have the same negative attitude to killing deer and squirrels as they do to controlling the badger. Also, where is the money coming from? The England woodland creation offer provides support for 10 years, at which point the woodland financed risks joining the huge list of undermaintained woodland not currently eligible for grants.

I am also surprised that Amendment 260 says so little about the importance of newly created commercial forestry. I recommend to all those interested the study by the University of Bangor which has just been published in Nature. It says, first, that

“research contradicts existing opinion that decarbonisation is best served by planting native broadleaves or re-wilding”.

Secondly, it says:

“Climate change mitigation from harvested stands surpasses unharvested stands 100 years after planting.”

Thirdly, it says:

“Newly planted commercial forest can achieve 269% greater climate change mitigation than semi-natural alternatives.”

In summary, this report says that productive new planting can deliver significantly more net carbon benefits than more natural broadleaved systems in the same period—up to two and half times more in some cases. Certainly, we need both commercial and broadleaved woods to achieve carbon sequestration, timber yield and, at the same time, biodiversity.

Finally, we need to recognise that if we want to achieve these massive tree-planting targets, commercial woodland, not amenity woodland, is the key. No doubt there are philanthropic owners who, together with farmers and others, will plant trees either in existing woodland or in field corners supported by ELMS. But in order to attract serious long-term investment, we need a more open approach which recognises that the profit motive is essential. There will be huge demand for timber for the building trade and the like as we try to limit steel and cement due to their carbon footprint. An owner of commercial woodland can see that, ultimately, the value of his timber will rise substantially. He may not receive a current yield on his investment, but the appreciation will be reflected in the capital value of his woodland or forestry. The same is not the case for amenity woodland. Surely this is the way forward, in that it ticks all the boxes of carbon benefits, biodiversity, supply of a product in great demand and a decent investment. Of course, balance is everything. That is something that is underplayed in Amendments 258 to 260, which is why I oppose them.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative 9:00 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, it is very difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, with his expertise and knowledge—much as previous speakers. I share his love of the Chilterns, not only because of the hanging beech woods, where I have often wandered around looking at the orchids, butterflies and other biodiversity, but because, about four generations ago, my family sold furniture that had been made from the beech in those Chiltern woods.

I speak, first, to Amendment 258. I was initially attracted to this because, as we have heard, the importance of ancient woodland is well understood. I was fascinated to hear the epiphany of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, following his excellent chairmanship of the HS2 committee—I am glad that something good has come out of HS2 for once—which was almost matched by the Damascene conversion of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in his previous incarnation as a purveyor of peat. However, to me, this is about protection; whether it is a SSSI or ancient woodland, this is about whether we can protect them adequately.

As they say on news programmes, “While we’ve been on air,” though I think it was probably earlier today, I have discovered that 553 acres of privately owned woodland—I do not know if it is ancient woodland—is going to be taken, it is reported, by Center Parcs to open a new site. This area is, I think, a SSSI; it has Schedule 1 breeding birds such as honey buzzard, goshawk, firecrest, hobby and crossbill nesting there, as well as threatened species such as redstart, nightjar and lesser spotted woodpecker. I do not know how protected this will be—we heard in the previous debate from the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, about Swanscombe peninsula and the threats there. If the designation means protection, that is obviously a good thing, but if it is just another designation that does not help, is it necessary? I have listened to the other arguments and I am not sure whether this is necessary. Normally, when it comes to woodland issues, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has a lot going for her, so I am tempted by her amendment.

I move on to Amendment 259. Again, we have talked a lot about biosecurity. The idea that this should be British trees initially appeals. However, the arguments about climate change and the amount of capacity that we have with British growers—as the noble Earl, Lord Devon, and others mentioned—are also compelling. The problem is not so much that they are being imported and grown elsewhere but in the actual word “biosecurity”; it is about what they may bring with them. One thing that is a problem is whether we have enough inspections for such things. There are a lot of bad things that are brought in—not just viruses or plant diseases but parasites as well. I am sure that many noble Lords know about the Obama worm, Obama nungara, which is a South American species that is very bad for invertebrates that are very helpful to horticulture. They came over, there are large numbers in France and we have now found them here. They have been coming in the soil; they are not necessarily visible. I do not know what the answer is—perhaps quarantine or something else—but it is too simplistic, I fear, to say that we must restrict ourselves to British-grown trees, however inviting that might seem.

Finally, I would like to say a few things about Amendment 260A. I agree entirely about the problem of grey squirrels. My noble friend Lord Blencathra mentioned muntjac, which not only have been a terrible curse for my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe’s roses—we suffer from that in our own suburban garden here in Uxbridge—but have been devastating the habitat of many birds. I think they are attributed to the decline of the nightingale, certainly in Norfolk and elsewhere, because they are eating that habitat.

I have a solution, possibly for the grey squirrels and the muntjac—and that other invasive species we are not talking about because it has nothing to do with trees, which is the signal crayfish—and that is that they are all excellent to eat. If we could just get the muntjac and grey squirrel shot, but not with lead, we could probably do a good service. Muntjac is particularly tasty.

I think it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, who talked about plastic tree guards. There are now surveys looking at jute and wool tree guards, which may be the answer to that. Certainly, there is a problem. Some people will say that too many deer is a reason to introduce lynx—I am not sure whether that would be very popular in Sussex, or elsewhere, but I have a great deal of sympathy with Amendment 260A. I am very interested to hear what the Minister has to say, and I will not detain the Committee any longer.

Photo of The Earl of Caithness The Earl of Caithness Conservative

My Lords, I have added my name to three amendments: Amendments 259 and 260 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, and Amendment 260A, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I have listened carefully to this very interesting debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Carrington, put his finger on it when he talked about the need for commercial forestry in this country. I have spoken a lot in the past about forestry. We are not good foresters in this country—we have the ideal climate for growing trees, and we do grow trees, but we are not good foresters, and that is why our timber is in the bad condition that it is. In Amendment 260, the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, proposes that the Government introduce a tree strategy. That will be hugely important because whenever we have mentioned trees recently my noble friend Lord Goldsmith has said, “Well, there is plenty of room beside riverbanks and stream-banks and unfarmed bits of land.” Yes, there is, but those are amenity trees and nothing to do with commercial woodland. We are the number two world importer of timber, which is a very bad statistic for the UK to have.

The problem with the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, for commercial woodland was rightly exposed by the noble Earl, Lord Devon, who said that commercial woodland is unprofitable: nobody is growing hardwood timber commercially any more. You cannot, because of pests and diseases. That is why Amendment 260A is so important, as is Amendment 259, which deals with biodiversity.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, said that there are pests and diseases for every native hardwood. If that is the case, and the Government’s strategy is what it is, commercial hardwoods have seen their day in this country. That is a terrible thing to have to say but, sadly, it is the truth. Not only do we need a tree strategy; for that we need a land strategy, because 20% of agricultural land will come out of production to go into forestry and biodiversity. Where is it going to happen? We do not know; this is all a bit pie in the sky from the Government.

The amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, adds a duty to set animal damage protection. That is hugely important, and there have been a number of important comments on it. My noble friend Lord Lucas told us of the case in Dorset where the RSPB fenced off a bit of woodland to keep the fallow deer out. That is a hugely irresponsible act of management, because all it does is push elsewhere the problem of excess deer in this country. It does not deal with it. My noble friend Lord Colgrain talked about the increasing numbers of car accidents due to deer and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, talked about how trees and long grasses change biodiversity. All those are very relevant points.

I will talk a bit more about damage to trees. I am very glad that Defra has not lost its sense of humour; I was extremely grateful to receive the other day from my noble friend the “Environment Bill nature and biodiversity factsheets”, on the front of which is a picture of three doe-eyed deer. They are eating the woodland in which they have been photographed. My compliments to Defra on its sense of humour.

I was recently in Dorset looking at some land on which I noticed a lot of self-sown trees last year. Every single leader of those trees has been eaten by deer this spring. Not one single tree that was self-generated will be able to grow into anything like a normal tree. Not only is the eating of leaders detrimental; there is also the rubbing and marking of trees by deer, particularly when cleaning their antlers and marking their territory. I think my noble friends Lord Blencathra and Lord Randall of Uxbridge mentioned the muntjac. Let us not forget that the muntjac can produce three fawns in two years. It is estimated that, if we want to control the present muntjac population as it is, the cull must be at 30% a year. Is that remotely likely? Does that have any support from the Government?

As our development presses out more and more into the countryside, it is getting harder and harder for people to control deer. Those who do will only find that their next-door neighbour is producing an oasis or refuge for deer, and more and more will come on to their land and undo any good being done. We also have the question of rabbits and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope of Craighead, said, hares.

The answer is that, if timber is uncommercial to grow, you cannot put up fences, which are too expensive, so you have to rely on plastic tubes. I foresee that, in 10 years’ time, we will have a pretty good desert of empty plastic tubes, because they will not work. Hopefully, we will get to a less polluting material than plastic, but I fear I am very negative about the future of forestry in this country under the present arrangements the Government have in hand.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, is absolutely right in her Amendment 260 that there needs to be a plan for the maintenance of trees and woodlands. It is no good having a target just for planting trees—you can tick that box very easily; it is, as I have said before, maintaining trees and bringing them to maturity that will benefit our country. However, as we know, the ages of 15 to 40 are the time when the abundance of grey squirrels will attack and destroy most of our native hardwoods. The Government really need to get their act together if they are going to fulfil their hopes for forestry in this country.

I turn finally to Amendment 283. Here, after six days of agreement, I part company with a lot of my noble friends, and noble friends opposite, including the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. This is a hugely complex and emotional subject. We can all agree that nobody wants to burn peat and everybody wants to keep it as wet as possible; the science is incomplete and in many cases contradictory. There is a lot more work needed to get the science right.

If the point of this amendment is to stop flooding, I simply say that a saturated peat bog does nothing to stop it at all. I could take your Lordships up to Caithness and Sutherland, to the Flow Country, and when that bog is wet, the water just runs off it. It does not stop flooding in any way. The peat bog will have to be managed to keep the bog just below the water table, so that when there is extra rain, it is the sponge that can absorb it. But if it already fully saturated, it is of no great benefit to anybody.

If the purpose of the amendment is to tackle greenhouse gases, it is possibly true that there is some carbon emitted in a controlled burn, but nothing to that which is emitted in wildfires. One has only to look at the fire in the Flow Country that I mentioned at our debate in March on the burning regulations, which doubled Scotland’s CO2 output. At Saddleworth Moor, they lost 200 years of stored carbon, according to the University of Liverpool, because that was unmanaged. The owners of Saddleworth Moor had turned their back on sensible management of heather and peatland, let it grow too long, and the inevitable happened.

Why do those who tabled this amendment want to go completely the opposite way when the science in Australia and America, and all the rest of the world, is telling us that controlled burning helps biodiversity and helps stop wildfires? Is the point of the amendment to make us have more biodiversity? If only we could communicate with the golden plover, the curlew and the hen harrier, they would all tell us: no, it does not. We need a managed moorland to thrive. All the evidence shows that curlews are greater in numbers on a managed grouse moor than they are on unmanaged heather. Heather is one of our great resources but it is declining, and we need to keep it going. One of the best ways of doing so is to burn it on a rotational basis.

We must define peatland, as there are something like 25 different categories of peat. It depends on the amount of organic mixture in the soil; some use 35% organic, some use 30%—the Americans—and I think it is Cranfield which uses 20%. So we do not know what we are talking about—a lot more work needs to be done.

I am very much against this amendment. We are all heading in the same direction; the debate is about how we get there. I believe that we must leave every option open, and allow controlled burning which, if done properly, should not touch the mosses or the peat. It is only the nitrogenous foliage above the peat which gets burned, and you are left with what is known as biochar on the stalks. Although biochar has been totally ignored in all previous research, it has increasingly been shown that it is a hugely important source for not only retaining but absorbing carbon.

The scientists disagree. They were all pretty well in agreement until fairly recently, but recent evidence shows that, in the past, scientists were wrong. I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will turn down this amendment and say that first, we need to do far more research and secondly, we must not do this until we get the definitions right in the first place.

Photo of The Bishop of Manchester The Bishop of Manchester Bishop 9:15 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, it is a particular pleasure to speak in the same debate as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, from whose wisdom, when I was a very young bishop some 20 years ago, I learned a great deal. I also an honour to follow the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, who has reminded us, powerfully, of the crucial role that commercial forestry and good moorland management should be enabled to play. Hence, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests as set out in the register, specifically my deputy chairmanship of the Church Commissioners, which the noble and right reverend Lord famously once took to court. We are one of the foremost owners of sustainable commercial forestry in the UK and beyond.

I speak, tonight, in support of Amendment 260. I also believe that Amendments 258, 259 and 283 are worthy of further consideration, but note the arguments of noble Lords who believe more work needs to be done to get the balance right. On Amendment 260, we will not achieve the recovery in levels of forestation that our country needs unless we have clear national targets, broken down into detail, as set out here. Moreover, a tree strategy will set those targets in the context of a wider narrative and allow major landowners, such as the Church Commissioners for England, to best play our part in its delivery. As a glance at the Hansard from another place will confirm to noble Lords, my colleague the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, regularly responds there to Members’ questions about the work of the commissioners on forestry, tree and land management best practice among our many tenants. Commissioners have also met regularly with the Minister and his colleagues, and we look forward to a continued dialogue regarding both our domestic and international forestry activities.

This country needs a tree strategy; trees are not a problem to be solved, but a core part of our heritage and our future. Our aspiration is that a tree strategy will help us to plant the right species of trees in the right places. As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, has reminded us, it is not simply a matter of increasing out total forest cover. Planting trees on high-quality arable land, or where a large number of visitors come to enjoy open vistas, simply to meet a target would be retrograde. However, as well as adding to the total number of trees, planting them where they can assist with managing water levels, prevent flooding or help maintain soil richness, will have a huge positive impact.

To save your Lordships’ time, I have not requested to speak at this stage in support of the later group of amendments that focus on indigenous communities and forestry products imported from overseas. However, I endorse them strongly, and I can assure noble Lords that these are matters that the Church Commissioners take into full account with regard to our own overseas assets. Indeed, we are already proactively engaging with Governments around the world to look at the good stewardship of our global natural assets and protect the rights of indigenous communities.

Photo of Baroness Fookes Baroness Fookes Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, has withdrawn, so the next speaker is the noble Lord, Lord Framlingham.

Photo of Lord Framlingham Lord Framlingham Conservative

My Lords, I would like to speak to Amendments 258, 259 and 260, and I declare my non-pecuniary interests. I was, many years ago, president of the Arboricultural Association, and I am currently an honorary fellow. What a terrific debate this has been so far, with thoughtful, knowledgeable and concerned contributions. There have been 23 Back Bench speakers, and I am number 23, so I am sure you will appreciate that I do not have a huge canvas unworked to paint.

On Amendment 258, ancient woodlands are so precious. Their value and what they contribute to our environment and enjoyment have been so well explained that I need not dwell on it again. I simply remind us all of two things. First, they can be seen as a touchstone—a bellwether for how much we really value them and, by association, our environment. Secondly, we should be judged by how seriously we take steps to protect them from damage and destruction by developments of all kinds. The biggest culprit by far at the moment is HS2, which I have spoken about before. There are 108 sites endangered by this project, 32 of them in phase 1. The photographs of the destruction already done are heart-breaking. We must surely do better.

I will speak briefly to Amendment 259. Post Brexit, we are in the enviable position of being able to determine our own plant import regulations. We must ensure that they are as tight as possible to keep out the many diseases present in Europe and other parts of the world, which would have a devastating effect on our trees were they to get in. A fungal disease of planes, known as plane wilt, that is present in France and the bacterial disease of olives, Xylella, which started in Italy, are just two of the many diseases that would wreak havoc were they to establish themselves here.

Noble Lords have already dealt with many of the other diseases. It is important to remember that the oak processionary moth, so damaging to our oak trees and now present in all parts of the country, was not long ago conveniently distributed there by a consignment of oak trees from Holland, saving the pests the trouble—a woeful breach of security. We must do all we can to protect our trees and raise public awareness of the danger from any kind of plant material.

I completely agree with Amendment 260 on the tree strategy. As we embark on the greatest tree-planting programme of our time, it is essential that we get it right so that a golden opportunity is not squandered, either in money or the time it takes to establish trees. We must be aware of how the scheme is to be delivered and how it will be overseen. It is important to know which professional disciplines will play a role in advising government and monitoring progress.

The Government should have the best possible advice available. If you are planning a housebuilding project, you consult builders, architects and planners. For a medical programme, you would talk to doctors and nurses, while any educational change would involve schoolteachers and universities. Who do we consult on a tree strategy? For forestry—growing trees for timber or silviculture—and planting trees out in the countryside, it is the Forestry Commission, with its wealth of experience over many years. For urban trees in our cities, towns and villages, it must be those dedicated to and responsible for looking after trees for their amenity value: arboriculturists. Urban trees are every bit as important as trees in the countryside, not only for the good they do in improving air quality and absorbing CO2, but for the pleasure and peace they bring every day to millions of people by their very presence in our increasingly stark urban landscape. Patients get better faster in wards with a view of trees than those without.

Whenever you look out of the window in this country, you can almost always see a tree. Who do your Lordships suppose looks after them, from the wonderful planes on Victoria Embankment to the trees in your garden? The answer is tree consultants, tree surgeons and local government tree officers, all of them arboriculturists. Their parent body is the Arboricultural Association, a large, well-organised and very successful organisation. It runs training schemes in all aspects of arboriculture, confers qualifications, produces a directory of qualified people—from tree surgeons to consultants—and monitors standards in the industry. It holds regular training and educational seminars, and a hugely successful annual conference with international speakers. It regularly produces a journal which contains the latest scientific developments in tree planting, diseases and tree management, again with contributions from leading specialists around the world.

In short, if you have a problem with your trees of any kind, including this big planting programme, arboriculturists are the people to consult. If you have an issue of any kind, from what trees to plant where, from crown reduction to felling, from cabling to cavity treatment, from diagnosing honey fungus to deciding whether your tree is responsible for the subsidence to your home, the person you will call will be an arboriculturist. Local government tree officers know their areas. They know what to plant and how to ensure they thrive. All this expertise is needed in planning our tree strategy.

In his response to this debate, will the Minister confirm that he and his department are aware of the importance of arboriculturists, particularly the Arboricultural Association and the experience it can bring to the table? Will he include it in the consultation and the implementation of the tree strategy?

Photo of Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:30 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, this varied group had attracted some 25 speakers, but some have withdrawn due to the timing. The main debate has been about trees, not some of the other amendments.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, set out extremely well the reasons for Amendments 257E and 257F and the dramatic effect that the guidance that the Secretary of State provides could have on the local authorities. It is therefore not only advisable but imperative that local authorities are consulted on the likely impact on their activities and service delivery. We have all heard of the outrage in Sheffield over the felling of trees without consultation. Local authorities need the power to act to prevent the spread of disease in trees, but local people should be consulted and understand the reasons for local authority actions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, introduced Amendment 258 on the protection of ancient woodland, Amendment 259 on introducing biodiversity standards when planting trees, and Amendment 260 on the duty to prepare a tree strategy for England. She is extremely knowledgeable on the subject of woodlands and trees, and we support her amendments. Other Peers also spoke in favour of these three amendments to protect and expand the planting of trees. We support placing ancient woodland on the same basis as SSSIs, but on an individual basis. Some 1,200 ancient woodlands are on the at-risk register and in need of protection, so something has to be done.

Importing trees runs the risk of introducing pests and diseases into our already depleted woodlands. Growing our own trees has been discussed previously during the round of statutory instruments introduced to assist our passage from the EU. Growing our own is one way to limit the damage from pests. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has supported this.

The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, introduced Amendment 260A on the risks that deer and grey squirrels present to newly planted and already established trees. The majority of speakers supported the amendment. Grey squirrels in particular are typical of a non-native invasive species that has been imported from abroad, and they have decimated our own red squirrel population almost to the point of extinction. Red squirrels are beginning to make a comeback in selected protected environments—the Isle of Wight and Brownsea Island are two such—but there is a long way to go for them to reach the numbers seen in previous decades.

Deforestation has decreased overall tree cover over the decades to an appallingly low level of 13%. The damage caused by grey squirrels is enormous. The UK Squirrel Accord is working to tackle the problem, but the motorway and railway agencies are not complying. Could the Minister encourage them to comply? Unless a robust standard is set for the protection of newly planted trees from animal damage, I fear the Government are not likely to see many of the trees they plants reach maturity.

The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has lost 60% of his replanted ancient woodland to grey squirrel damage, and my noble friend Lord Teverson has championed biodiversity, the protection of trees and increased planting. Only 7% of our landscape is covered with trees, and only 2% is ancient woodland. A tree strategy and action plan to protect and invest in trees, based on science, is essential.

Amendment 283, in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, and my noble friend Lord Teverson would ban the rotational burning of vegetation on upland peat moors. I have listened to the arguments that this will protect the peat, but I am not convinced. In March, we debated the effect of wildfires on peat moors, as the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, reminded us. There are frequent wildfires on Bodmin, Dartmoor and Exmoor peat moors. Some are accidental; some are set deliberately. Wildfires are not confined to the West Country; the upland moors also suffer from them.

The managed burning of a heather moor is carried out under controlled conditions and by a patch at a time. It is a cool burn, and the underlying peat does not ignite. This is not the case with wildfires, which can rage out of control for days, with the underlying peat catching fire and spreading underground over significant distances, causing considerable damage.

Managed burning is better than out-of-control wildfires—a view supported by the noble Earl, Lord Devon. The Government have trailed their peat strategy, which is due to be published this year. However, it is a long time coming. I would rather see amendments to the way we produce and use our peat, both commercially and on uplands, dealt with under this strategy and not piecemeal, as with this amendment.

Peat takes hundreds of years to form but can be depleted very quickly. My husband recently went to the local garden centre to buy compost. He asked the owner which were the peat-free bags—there was only one variety. He stood next to a woman who was instructing her husband to buy several bags of compost with the words, “Make sure it has a very high peat content”.

The message about the finite quantity of peat is not getting through. Can the Minister say when the peat strategy for the country will be published? It will affect not only the upland peat bogs but the lowland peat moors, which are currently being exploited under licence for the benefit of the English country garden. I urge the Minister to consider Amendment 283, along with the peat strategy, when that eventually appears.

Peatland restoration is taking place in a variety of types of peatland. Restoration on the levels referred to by my noble friend Lord Teverson is very impressive: it has created new habitats and restored the water levels. On the next moor, however, peat is still being extracted. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the many and varied arguments put forward in this very long debate.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, for moving his amendments, which now seems quite a long time ago. But I am sure he has listened with interest to the rest of the debate.

I am speaking in support of the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone, to which I have added my name, and to my Amendment 283 on the prohibition on burning peat. I am grateful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for adding their names.

My noble friend Lady Young has made an excellent case for the need for a tree strategy to be included in the Bill. It is interesting that the only mention of trees in the Bill is about felling rather than planting trees. Obviously, the Government’s announcement of the England tree action plan is welcome, as is the commitment to treble woodland creation rates to meet a target of planting 30,000 hectares per year by the end of this Parliament. But I echo my noble friend’s concern that the plan lacks the clarity and targets needed to ensure an effective implementation. As noble Lords will be all too aware, government targets for tree planting have come and gone before and, at last count, we were still way behind the Government’s earlier target to plant 11 million trees.

In his letter to us of 10 June, the Minister said that, following

“the policy paper … published in August 2020, the Government is exploring whether a statutory target for trees … would be appropriate.”

That was a year ago, so can the Minister clarify the result of that consideration? Does he now agree with my noble friend that the time has now come to enact such a target in this Bill?

The Minister’s letter also says:

“The Government plans to consult on a long-term tree target … in early 2022”.

But as we discussed in earlier sections of the Bill, our experience so far has been that these consultations tend to have an organisational drift: targets come and go, and other work priorities take precedence. We think there is urgency for this work, and I hope that the Minister will be able to update us on the work that is planned and the timetables involved.

Meanwhile, there is increasing urgency to increase planting levels, as the Committee on Climate Change has made it clear that across the UK, tree planting has consistently fallen below what is needed to achieve net zero by 2050. This is why we agree with the Woodland Trust and others that we need to put the production of a tree strategy, with targets and interim targets, on the face of the Bill.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, that we need both commercial forestry and conservation woodlands to be included. As he says, balance is everything, but we would expect all those issues to be covered by a tree strategy. I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester that it is important that planting is done sensitively to ensure that the right tree is planted in the right place. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we need more information about what the best conditions are to create natural tree regeneration, because our experience has been mixed in this. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, that we still have a lot to learn about how trees communicate with and nurture each other.

It is also important that smaller woodlands are encouraged and ancient woodlands are protected, as well as schemes to ensure that trees are properly conserved for the longer term. This is why we welcome the proposal that ancient woodlands should be dealt with on the same basis as SSSIs, although I understand the concerns that noble Lords have raised that it could be a lengthy and complex process. What we are looking for is a simplified model of that protection.

I agree with the point from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that some woodlands are too small to be designated as SSSIs, so we need an approach that can encompass all that. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Randall, that SSSIs only have any use to us if they provide real protection for the trees and the diversity that they are meant to be protecting.

The Government’s recent announcement emphasises the need for diverse woodlands with a focus on native broad-leaf trees and the need to improve our domestic tree production with high levels of biosecurity. We welcome this approach. My noble friend Lady Young of Old Scone made a case for urgent action to ensure that domestic nurseries provide saplings grown to a disease-free standard. Many noble Lords have spoken, quite rightly, about their concerns about the progress of new diseases and new pests and the heartbreak caused when woodlands had to be felled as a result.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I fondly remember the sterling work of the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, to battle on this front. He did an enormous amount of working in this area, but it did feel that at times that he was on the losing side, despite all his efforts. These issues are spelled out in my noble friend’s amendments, so I hope that the Minister will feel able to support these amendments.

My Amendment 283 would prohibit the burning of peat in all upland areas. This follows on from the inadequate actions of the Government earlier this year to ban peat burning only in sites of special scientific interest—which Wildlife and Countryside Link calculated equates only to a maximum of 30% of the total upland peat. The Government’s SI also included a number of exemptions which mean that large swathes of upland bog burning will take place much as before. The England Peat Action Plan, published in May, says simply that these regulations will be kept “under review”. This is just not good enough. As the noble Lord Teverson, said, our peatlands are the jewels of the countryside.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of the restoration of our peat bogs to reaching our climate change targets. Through well-managed peat bogs we have the capacity to store 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon, but this natural resource has been eroded by habitat encroachment, by the excavation of peat for horticulture and, most damagingly, by the burning of peat vegetation. The Climate Change Committee said last year that

“the practice should be banned across the UK with immediate effect.”

I assure the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, that the committee’s recommendation is based on the best and most up-to-date scientific evidence. Indeed, if you read its report, it is constantly referenced with these citations. We agree that this is a complex issue but ultimately that does not alter its recommendations.

The Adaptation Committee of the Climate Change Committee in its report last month also picked up on this issue and stressed again that the Government must rewet 100% of upland peat moors urgently. In answer to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that is what our amendment seeks to achieve: not just the banning of burning but to ensure that all the upland peat land is rewetted to deep bog status. This is what our amendment seeks to do. I hope the Minister now accepts that it is necessary to take more radical action on this issue than he has been prepared to take in the past, and I hope he will therefore feel able to support our amendment. Perhaps he can also update us on the banning of the sale of horticultural peat, which a number of noble Lords raised.

I will comment briefly on the other amendments in this group. The new clause to protect street trees from unnecessary felling is welcome, as is the emphasis on consulting communities. The sad fact is that local highways authorities have not always taken their environmental obligations on this sufficiently seriously. I have some sympathy with Amendment 257E in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, on the need to consult local authorities before issuing guidance, and I hope that that would be standard practice. I am slightly more sceptical about the noble Lord’s second amendment allowing local highways authorities to set further local exemptions. The Bill already gives exemptions if a tree is, for example, dead, dangerous or diseased, so giving further exemption powers would seem to negate the wider obligation to consult.

Finally, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, that newly planted trees need to be protected from damage by animals by the application of a standard. He made the important point that we need to use the best science to tackle issues such as reducing grey squirrel numbers, working collectively through organisations such as the UK Squirrel Accord. Based on the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, we await the result of the squirrel fertility control experiment with some interest.

I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, that saplings should not be protected from animal damage by the widely used plastic guards—which eventually fall off and litter the environment—when alternative, nature-friendly guards are available.

We have had a wide-ranging debate, and it is a late hour. I hope the Minister is persuaded by these arguments and will be prepared to take some of them forward. I therefore look forward to hearing his response.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 9:45 pm, 12th July 2021

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions on this important topic. The best time to plant a tree was, of course, years ago; the second-best time is now, so I am glad that we have committed to doing so at scale. The Government committed in May through our new England Trees Action Plan to action in this Parliament to support unprecedented levels of tree planting to deliver the many benefits that trees can provide. The action plan was widely and warmly welcomed by NGOs, conservation groups and stakeholders. This Bill includes measures which will update our tree protection laws, including by increasing fines and attaching restocking orders to land rather than landowners, who could sell their land without restocking trees.

I want to start by addressing Amendment 260. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for championing trees through her support for the Woodland Trust. I have enjoyed talking to her on many occasions about this issue in recent months. I share her ambition to see more trees planted and our existing woodlands protected. It has been positive to see such support from charities and the public for our plans and ambitions, as these ambitions can be delivered only with the support of the country.

That is why the Government committed to at least trebling tree-planting rates in England over this Parliament and to consulting on a new long-term tree target under the Environment Bill. We have committed in this Bill to producing regular statutory environmental improvement plans, beginning with our 25-year environment plan. This will regularly update our natural environment policies, including for trees. Therefore, we do not need another separate, individual strategy for trees; we have a strategy for trees.

Amendment 258 proposes an amendment to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, introducing an additional differentiation between sites of special scientific interest and ancient woodland. Ancient woodlands established before 1600 are some of our most precious habitats and many are already designated under the SSSI series. The definition of ancient woodland is also already clearly established in the Forestry Commission and Natural England standing advice. However, we need to update the ancient woodlands inventory to map where they are and we are doing so, as the noble Baroness knows, alongside the Woodland Trust. Our England Trees Action Plan includes new steps to protect and restore ancient woodlands through management and restoration. Our new England woodland creation offer will fund landowners to buffer and expand ancient woodland sites by planting native broadleaf woodland. We will update the keepers of time policy on management of ancient woodland, veteran trees and other semi-natural woodlands, and we are also expanding the ancient woodland inventory to better map those ancient woodlands. The action plan announced our intention to establish a new category of long-established woodland, in situ since 1840. The Government will consult on the protections that these critical woodlands are afforded in the planning system. I also confirm that our upcoming planning reforms will not weaken our strong protections for trees but rather enhance them, with many more trees planted as well. As such, I reassure the noble Baroness that we are taking significant steps to protect and restore ancient woodlands. That said, I will look closely at her proposal. As she said, ancient woodlands are irreplaceable and need our maximum protection.

Turning to the noble Baroness’s Amendment 259, I also assure her of our commitment to increasing UK biosecurity. I know that I do not need to lecture your Lordships’ House about the devastating impact of ash dieback or Dutch elm disease, or the importance of vigilance against other threatening diseases. The Government already support the plant health management standard and certification scheme, which is an independent, industry-backed biosecurity standard available to all market sectors and it covers international supply chains.

The existing plant health regime already implements a range of measures that address and minimise biosecurity risks. I am advised that this amendment would be in breach of WTO rules governing international trade. However, I have asked for more information on this. As a number of noble Lords have said, the risk is real and terrible, and we must use every available lever to protect our trees. Bureaucracy certainly should not become an obstacle to doing that. We are taking steps to support our own nurseries with a view to reducing our dependence on imported saplings, and again I hope that we will be able to go further, in the interests of guarding against future tree diseases.

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, for his Amendment 260A. Woodlands created using public funding must conform to the UK forestry standard for woodland creation and management plans. Such plans include steps to reduce grazing from browsing mammals, including through active management, barrier protection and the development and monitoring of deer management plans. We recently announced in the England Trees Action Plan a number of actions to go further to protect our woodlands from browsing animals such as deer and grey squirrels.

We are also working with the UK Squirrel Accord to support the ongoing research into grey squirrel management; for example—and I am nervous saying this given the comments of my noble friend Lord Blencathra—looking into fertility control for grey squirrels. The aim is to produce an immuno-contraceptive that can be taken orally by grey squirrels through a species-specific delivery mechanism. I understand that a number of noble Lords have contributed financially to that work. It matters that we exhaust that option, not because it is the only option but because the main alternative—a cull of some sort—is not something that everyone will buy into. It only takes a few areas to not take part for the population to continue growing, so we will need to use every string in every bow.

We will also open a new competitive grant scheme to help land managers improve the ecological condition of their woodlands, including sites of special scientific interest and ancient and long-established woodlands, a new category. Therefore, although welcome in intention, proposed new Clause 108 is unnecessary. We do not need new legislation to ensure that newly planted trees are protected from browsing animals.

I turn to Amendments 257E and 257F in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake. Local authorities and their tree officers play a critical role in managing and protecting valuable street trees. We have launched a local authority treescapes fund to help them plant more trees and to regenerate more publicly owned areas in local communities, as well as other changes to regulations and guidance to see more trees planted and protected. The duty to consult was developed following a consultation and discussions with stakeholders on how we can better protect trees in England. The duty as proposed was considered the most proportionate approach. Guidance on delivery of the duty is being drafted with input from local authority tree officers, the experts who will carry out this duty on our behalf. We will consult further before publishing guidance, but we do not need legislation to make that happen.

Regarding the noble Lord’s Amendment 257F, the exemptions to the duty have been carefully selected to allow local highways authorities to deal with trees which cause immediate issues, such as by posing immediate danger. Providing highways authorities with powers to create further exemptions would undermine the purpose and existence of the duty, as they could then create exemptions that were not in the spirit of the legislation. This amendment could therefore undermine protection for trees and lead to further unpopular and unnecessary felling of valuable street trees.

I agree with those noble Lords who spoke about the importance of trees as carbon sinks. However, just as important for carbon storage are our peatlands, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for raising this via Amendment 283. The Government have invested over £8 million in peatland restoration this year. We recently launched our four-year nature for climate peatland grant scheme, a new competitive capital grant scheme for peat restoration, and we intend to invest over £50 million in peatland restoration by 2025. We have also committed to exploring the environmental and economic case for extending peat protections further still, in the England Peat Action Plan that was published in May. The Government are working to comprehensively map England’s peatlands by 2024, to inform this position.

I heard the argument put forward by my noble friend Lord Caithness about the flood-prevention qualities of peatlands. He declared with great confidence that the value is not there, but I respectfully say to him that the science is absolutely clear that healthy peatlands prevent the flow of surface water and increase the land’s ability to absorb and hold water. The impact in terms of reduced flood risk is measurable and significant.

We have also committed to exploring the environmental and economic case for extending those peat protections further. The Government are committed to protecting deep peat habitats through the Heather and Grass etc. Burning (England) Regulations 2021, which a number of noble Lords mentioned. These regulations prohibit burning on blanket bog in our most protected sites, but they also specify limited purposes for which a licence to burn may be granted, where landowners need to manage the risk of wildfire. For example, those exemptions would no longer be possible under the noble Baroness’s amendment, and we are therefore unable to support it.

However, I reassure the noble Baroness that I share her intention to protect these vital ecosystems. The new regulations will protect approximately 140,000 hectares of England’s upland deep peat from further damage from managed burning—this represents 90% of our SSSI-designated blanket bog habitat and 40% of our upland deep peat.

Finally, on the issue of the use of peat in horticulture, which has also been raised by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, we have always been clear about the need to end the use of peat in horticultural products. We want the transition to be as seamless as possible for the sector, but, in truth, our voluntary approach has not succeeded. In the England Peat Action Plan, we have committed to publishing this year the full consultation on banning the sale of peat and peat-containing products in the amateur sector by the end of this Parliament.

The Government share the commitment of all those who spoke on the need to protect our trees and valuable peatlands. I hope that I have been able to reassure noble Lords on their points and that they feel able not to press their amendments.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector), Deputy Chairman of Committees 10:00 pm, 12th July 2021

I have received requests to speak after the Minister from two noble Lords. First, I call the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford.

Photo of Lord Marlesford Lord Marlesford Conservative

My Lords, we have rightly heard much about the importance of protecting ancient woodland in Britain for global reasons. Is it not as important, and perhaps more urgent, to halt and prevent the loss of tropical rainforests, such as the Amazon? Has my noble friend considered the proposals that I made at Second Reading for the relief of national debt, both interest and capital repayment, equal to a multiple—possibly a high multiple—of the commercial value of the rainforest that we want to protect? Only if the rainforest were interfered with would the debt be reinstated.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the noble Lord for his intervention. We will talk a bit about similar issues in the next debate on due diligence, but it is certainly the case that, if we want forested countries to protect what they have, implement the laws that are in place and help us to turn the tide on deforestation, there will need to be an incentive. In some part, that means financial transfer from other countries. The UK is leading efforts, with the development of a new programme called LEAF, which has already raised in excess of a £1 billion, in theory at least. We hope to continue to attract partners from the private sector and Governments, with a view to working with the main forested nations to protect the forest that they have. This is just one of many initiatives; we are working on a number of initiatives between now and COP, with a view to making a meaningful intervention, we hope, at that event.

Photo of Baroness Young of Old Scone Baroness Young of Old Scone Labour

My Lords, I am conscious of the hour. I thank the Minister for the initiatives that he spoke of on ancient woodland but ask that, when he continues to look at ancient woodland protection, he also raises the effectiveness of the implementation of the current planning guidance with the MHCLG, because it is clear that, if we have 1,200 cases of ancient woodlands at risk, the implementation simply cannot be working. I would be grateful if he would agree to raise that with the MHCLG and, while he is there, he could ask them about the planning reforms and get some guarantee that they will not reduce the level of protection for ancient woodland below the current NPPF and, preferably, improve it.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My Lords, I have had commitments from the MHCLG that our protections for trees will be improved and enhanced, and will not move backwards, but I will continue to press home that case. I am seeing the Secretary of State in a matter of days to talk about this and a number of other issues, and I will raise the points that the noble Baroness raised in her speech today.

Photo of The Earl of Kinnoull The Earl of Kinnoull Chair, European Union Committee, Chair, European Union Committee, Deputy Chairman of Committees, Chair, European Affairs Committee, Chair, European Affairs Committee

I am also sorry to delay matters. I thank the Minister for his response, but I am afraid he did not address my point about refuges and safe areas caused by governmental bodies not controlling the problems of squirrels and deer. They were listed in subsection (3) of my proposed new clause. To save time, I wonder whether he might add to his lengthy list of things a meeting to discuss that, because it is a very serious area. If we do not address that problem successfully, as I and many others pointed out, we will not be allowed to do the forestation we need.

Photo of Lord Kerslake Lord Kerslake Crossbench

My Lords, I first thank the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Neville-Rolfe, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones of Whitchurch, for their comments. I also welcome the Minister’s response on the consultation. I am concerned about the need to get the practicalities right and, in particular, to have a workable model. That will require the extensive involvement of local government before it is finalised.

On exemptions, I still feel that the Bill is too narrowly drawn to cover eventualities when local authorities will need to move quickly. I wonder if that can be entirely covered by the Bill, in any event. I recognise the risks that local authorities will abuse such a power but, nevertheless, we have not quite got it right yet. Recognising the hour, though, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 257E withdrawn.

Amendment 257F not moved.

Clause 108 agreed.

Amendments 258 to 260A not moved.

Photo of Baroness Barker Baroness Barker Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Voluntary Sector), Deputy Chairman of Committees

We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 260B. Anyone who wishes to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.

Clause 109: Use of forest risk commodities in commercial activity