To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if he will make an assessment of the adequacy of Forestry Commission’s Forester GIS online mapping system to identify areas of non-designated but high wildlife, habitat or environmental value when assessing applications for tree planting.
The Forestry Commission (FC) is working with Natural England to ensure that those proposing forestry projects such as woodland creation do have access to the appropriate environmental data to help inform their proposals. The FC’s online map browser and Land Information Search (LIS) focusses on data more relevant to forestry activity, whereas the Defra Multi Agency Geographic Information [for the] Countryside (MAGIC) is a more general rural environment Geographic Information System portal. The FC’s map browser and LIS is currently being reviewed to ensure that it is able to access as many of the relevant publicly available datasets as possible, particularly those related to soils, valuable habitats and important wildlife populations.
The FC is also working with other bodies across Defra to provide new data on issues that regularly affect forestry projects and woodland activity, such as on water catchments.
Geographical Information datasets can only ever be indicative. There is no substitute for field visits and assessments of extant biodiversity interests by qualified ecologists. To that end, the FC has published a new priority habitat identification booklet and is appointing additional ecologists.
Natural England are currently working with key data holders, including the Botanical Society of the British Isles, on methods to ensure important natural habitats are better identified and protected. They are also working with the FC to ensure all future woodland creation applications are subject to the necessary scrutiny.