Embedding sustainable development across Government, after the Secretary of State's announcement on the future of the Sustainable Development Commission - Environmental Audit Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by the Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust welcomes the opportunity to respond to this consultation. The Trust is the UK's leading woodland conservation charity. We have three aims: to enable the creation of more native woods and places rich in trees; to protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future; to inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees. We own over 1,000 sites and have 300,000 members and supporters.


Government should lead by example in the way it conducts its business. Sustainable development must take into account the impact of policies and the working of government on natural habitats: their biodiversity, and the wider ecosystem services they provide. As the champion of trees and woods, and especially native trees and woods, the Woodland Trust believes they have a vital role to play in ensuring the UK's landscapes are rich in wildlife and provide for our population in terms of fuel, food and fibre, as well as providing places for recreation. In particular, the Trust would like to see:

  1. Doubling of native tree cover.
  2. No further loss of ancient woodland.
  3. All Planted Ancient Woodland Sites in restoration programmes.

In order to ensure sustainable development, we believe there is a need to ensure no net loss of tree cover across the UK, but rather a significant increase - woodland cover is currently one of the lowest in Europe - and that woods in the UK are managed sustainably.

2.  How can mechanisms to ensure the sustainability of Government operations, procurement and policy-making be improved and further embedded and mainstreamed across Government departments?

2.1  The UK Government should lead by example on procurement of timber and other wood-based products. The Woodland Trust supports the existing timber procurement policy, which requires central government departments, their executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies only to procure timber and wood-derived products originating from either legal and sustainable or FLEGT licensed or equivalent sources. We also support the move to require local authorities to comply with these requirements.

2.2  It is essential that this policy continues to be implemented, with sufficient monitoring through CPET (the Central Point of Expertise for Timber Procurement). The Woodland Trust strongly supports certification of timber and other products as evidence for their sustainable production, through either FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification).

2.3  Government departments with a land management remit should demonstrate sustainable management of woodland, which means in accordance with credible certification standards. The Woodland Trust sees restoration of Planted Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) - ancient woods replanted with non-native conifers - as a particular priority. Ancient woods are the UK's richest terrestrial habitat, covering only 2% of its land area. Replanting with conifers has had a detrimental effect on their biodiversity but as the conifers reach economic maturity there is an opportunity to reverse this, restoring the woods to mainly native broadleaved cover. Certification through FSC or UKWAS (UK Woodland Assurance Standard) requires landowners to maintain the biodiversity value of PAWS and bring a percentage into restoration. The Woodland Trust would like to see all PAWS owned by government departments brought into programmes of restoration.

2.4  Current systems of measuring and embedding sustainable development need to be reviewed. For example, it is questionable whether PSAs have succeeded in delivering a healthy natural environment. For example, in the UK we have failed to meet 2010 Biodiversity Action Plan targets. Indicators of sustainable development - eg bird populations - are sometimes treated as an end in themselves in the delivery measures chosen, rather than as indicators of a more general aim eg biodiversity as a whole.

2.5  In order to maximize the opportunities for sustainable development, there should be a more integrated approach to land management generally - for example, between agricultural and forestry policy.

2.6  A measure of the success of sustainable development should be an increase in tree cover, including a specific target on native tree cover. The UK is one of the least wooded countries in Europe, yet trees and woods provide a whole range of important ecosystem services. They can help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change. They store carbon, ameliorate flooding, improve air and water quality, provide shade and shelter, reduce temperatures in urban areas, and are host to a wide range of biodiversity. Encouragingly, there is a growing recognition of the value of woods and trees across government and at Parliament as evidenced by the Low Carbon Transition Plan,[10] the commitment to a national tree planting campaign and a supportive debate in Westminster Hall before the election.[11] There is a need to ensure the right incentives are available to encourage tree planting. Recently, increased levels of grant in Wales and Northern Ireland have been shown to encourage an increase in tree planting. A 30 per cent increase in grant aid in Northern Ireland resulted in a threefold increase in applications for woodland creation grants in December 2009 and January 2010 compared with the same period the previous year.

3.  How can governance arrangements for sustainable development in Government be improved, and how can sustainability reporting by Government departments be made more transparent and accountable?

3.1  A healthy natural environment is fundamental to human existence - it is not a luxury. In order to ensure this outcome, we need political leadership at the highest level, acting upon overwhelming evidence and providing moral leadership which will show that the aspiration to be "the greenest government ever" is truly being acted upon. We believe that each Government department should be required to produce an ecosystems strategy and be held accountable for it. Similarly, whilst we recognise that there is a need to reduce the number of overall targets set across Government this does not mean that there should be a departure from the use of intelligent targets which aid efficient use of resources - indeed there has never been a more important to time than the present financial climate to foster good stewardship. We therefore feel that intelligent cross-government indicators are also required - reviewed by a powerful Cabinet committee.

3.2  Better systems of monitoring and evaluation are needed. As an example, ancient woodland is the UK's equivalent to the rainforest, is irreplaceable and is home to more threatened species than any other terrestrial habitat. In recognition of the vital role this habitat has in ensuring that wildlife decline is halted, the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP)committed to maintain the current extent and distribution of ancient semi-natural woodland. However, since the target was agreed the Forestry Commission have been unable to impose a system that is capable of monitoring loss.

3.3  Another important action identified by the BAP was the restoration of those ancient woodlands degraded by the planting of non-native conifers. To achieve this objective the BAP committed to restore 26,800ha of non-native Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS). The Forestry Commission has made progress on its own estate; however, monitoring restoration in the private sector has proved less successful as the Forestry Commission has been unable to collate information from grants and felling licences.

4.  Was the SDC successful in fulfilling its remit? Which aspects of its work have reached a natural end, or are otherwise of less importance, and which remain of particular continuing importance?

4.1  The Sustainable Development Commission has helped raise awareness of the need for sustainability at a time when this received less mainstream attention. Moving forward, sustainable development should be at the heart of policy and decision making in all government departments, public sector institutions, and businesses.

5.  In formulating a future architecture for sustainable development in Government, how can it take on board wider developments and initiatives (eg to develop "sustainability reporting" in departments' accounts) and the contributions that other bodies might make (eg Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Procurement)?

5.1  Government should look to the findings of the TEEB (The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity) study[12] and the role that business can play in creating a healthy and wildlife-rich natural environment. The benefits to business of engaging with biodiversity and the natural environment are manifold, including reduced costs, improved brand image, and reaching new customers. Government should put in place policies and mechanisms to encourage businesses to invest in the environment. The Green Investment Bank (GIB) is one opportunity: the Trust believes there is a compelling business, environmental and social rationale for ensuring that the GIB funds woodland creation and tree planting as a contribution to mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change.

6.  How, without the assistance of the SDC, will the Government be able to demonstrate that it is "the greenest government ever"?

6.1  The national tree planting campaign will be a tangible demonstration of the Government's commitment to the environment, as would adoption of the Liberal Democrats' commitment to double woodland cover as a Coalition government target.

6.2  The Government should also re-affirm a commitment to protection of ancient woodland, which is currently enshrined in planning policy guidance, and to restoration of ancient woods planted with non-native conifers, both of which are targets under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.

13 October 2010

10   Department for Energy and Climate Change, The UK low carbon transition plan: national strategy for climate and energy (2009). Back

11   Hansard debate, Native woodland (9 Feb 2010), at:

12   http://www.teebweb.org/  Back

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