HC Deb 19 March 1986 vol 94 cc277-9
3. Sir John Biggs-Davison

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what proposals have been received by his Department from the Countryside Commission, or elsewhere, for the protection of small ancient or semi-natural broadleaved woodlands necessary to the preservation of the natural beauty of the landscape.

The Minister for Environment, Countryside and Local Government (Mr. William Waldegrave)

The Countryside Commission and the Nature Conservancy Council were closely involved in the broadleaved woodlands policy review undertaken by the Forestry Commission last year, but I have received no further proposals for the protection of woodlands since the Government statement on that was issued on 24 July 1985.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Is my hon. Friend aware that the Nature Conservancy Council's recommendations for relief from what until yesterday we called capital transfer tax exclude woodlands of less than two hectares? Will Ministers examine that seemingly perverse discrimination against the poorer and smaller?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am aware of that question and the problem that is involved. The difficulty is that there are an enormous number of small woodlands, and we must consider whether the extra work involved for the NCC would be worthwhile, considering the small amount of CTT that would be forgone. I shall reconsider the matter as a result of my hon. Friend's question.

Mr. Dalyell

What have Ministers learnt from the episode when the Seafield estate—not Sellafield—cut down an ancient part of the Caledonian forest in the Rothiemurchis area, which evaded the Government's legislation?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am not responsible for Scotland. The truth is that we are aware in general that more powers are needed for forestry conservation. A number of useful suggestions are coming forward. I shall be in touch with the hon. Gentleman further on that matter.

Mr. Chapman

As it has been estimated that during the past 35 years more than one third of our ancient woodlands have been felled, and as it is apparent that during the past few years thousands of hedgerows—the seedbeds of much of our rural tree stock—have been uprooted, may I commend to my hon. Friend that the Countryside Commission and other bodies are given every support and that fresh initiatives are forthcoming to encourage tree planting of amenity value in our rural areas?

Mr. Waldegrave

I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. There are some interesting projects afoot, one of which may interest my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison)—the Silvanus project, which the Dartington Commission and the Countryside Commission have developed in the south-west of England for the management of small woodlands.

Dr. David Clark

Is the Minister aware that with inevitable changes in the common agricultural policy 10 million acres of basically lowland Britain will probably be made redundant for cereal production? Does he appreciate that that gives us a great opportunity to start increasing our woodlands in lowland Britain? Will he set up a joint working party with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to see how we can bring about the reafforestation of lowland Britian with deciduous trees?

Mr. Waldegrave

If I were Lord Hylton, perhaps I would send the hon. Gentleman several of my speeches on the subject. The hon. Gentleman is correct, in that there are opportunities. However, all the land released will not be from cereal production, nor will it all be suitable for tree planting. The opportunities for forestry in lowland areas must now be increased. It is an interesting matter.

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