HC Deb 16 March 1988 vol 129 cc595-6W
Mr. Gow

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what environmental guidance the Government propose to give to the Forestry Commission about the approval of grant applications for afforestation in England.

Mr. Ridley

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is making a general statement about forestry policy in Great Britain in the light of the Budget changes. Both in its own forestry operations and in considering applications for planting grants, the Forestry Commission has statutory duty to endeavour to achieve a reasonable balance between forestry and environmental considerations. In cases where the appropriate balance is in doubt, because an objection has been made by the relevant public or local authority and has not been resolved by the commission's regional advisory committee, the commission has since 1974 been directed by forestry Ministers to seek their views before approving the application, or proceeding with the scheme, as the case may be. In England, I am consulted in appropriate cases.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and I have decided that it would be helpful for the Forestry Commission also to have general guidance from the Government about fulfilling its statutory duties in relation to the environment in England. This guidance will be contained in a letter which the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be sending to the chairman of the Forestry Commission. The main features of the guidance will be as follows: A large proportion of the land in England has been used for agriculture as either arable or improved grassland. We therefore attach a high value to conserving, and where necessary restoring, the habitats which the remaining unimproved land provides, including the uplands and ancient woodlands. While we see some scope for broadleaved and mixed woodlands, approval should not normally be given in the uplands of England for new planting which consists predominantly of conifers. The only exception would be small areas where it is clear that such planting would be environmentally acceptable. The main potential for afforestation in England lies on arable land and improved grassland which may no longer be needed for food production. It has already been decided that the farm woodland scheme should be targeted on land previously in agricultural use. This concept is incorporated in the Farm Land and Rural Development Bill currently before Parliament. The new grant rates will provide additional incentives for the planting of broadleaved trees and for planting on improved land. In existing forested areas, the granting of felling licences by the Forestry Commission to private owners is normally subject to the condition that replanting should be carried out. In future, however, the Forestry Commission will be expected to follow policies which will convert forests of an even age into attractive and more varied landscapes with a mixture of types and ages of trees.

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