Thank you for contacting me about ancient woodlands and the Environment Bill.
I fully understand the importance of this issue and I am glad that our ancient woodlands are already strongly protected under the National Planning Policy Framework. As well as this, the Government also provides standing advice for local authority planners for when they make planning decision proposals affecting ancient woodland, ancient trees and veteran trees.
I am assured, however, that cases will be kept under review where loss or deterioration of ancient woodland has been or is justified on the basis of “wholly exceptional” circumstances and ministers will encourage them to be brought to the attention of Defra at an early stage. Further, I welcome that guidance to planners making decisions on what is considered wholly exceptional will be revised.
In addition and as recently committed to in the England Trees Action Plan, ministers will build on existing protections, including by introducing a new category of long-established woodland (woodlands that have been around since 1840) and will consult on the protections they are afforded in the planning system. The new England woodland creation offer will also fund landowners to buffer and expand ancient woodland sites by planting native broad-leaf woodland, and ministers will update the Keepers of Time policy on the management of ancient woodland, veteran trees and other semi-natural woodland.
I am aware tree cutting has taken place on the Island and am pleased that the Council has taken action on this. More generally, I am keen to see greater landscape protection for the Island. I have set out to the Government my vision for the Island to have the UK’s first ‘Island Park’ which would see the Island gain unique protection status somewhere between that of an AONB and a National Park. I am also writing to Natural England to explain the options for the Island to become an 'Island Park', to protect our landscape, tourism economy and quality of life.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.