Closed petition Legal rights for ancient trees

All ancient trees (over 100 years of age) to have the legal right not to be damaged or felled, with the exception of sustainable forestry to produce wood and maintaining the tree’s health. This would effectively make tree preservation orders (TPOs) national.

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1. Trees are vital to our natural ecosystem and support hundreds of animal and insect life as well producing oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

2. i believe all life is worthy of our care and respect, just as an animal that produces meat and milk is worthy of our care and respect, a tree producing wood and fruit is worthy of our care and respect.

3. Any undue harm or felling of ancient trees for landscaping/visual reasons should be illegal and subject to prosecution.

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Government responded

This response was given on 30 July 2020

Ancient trees are a living link to our history so we already have extensive controls on their protection; additional legal rights for ancient trees are not necessary in addition to those.

Read the response in full

Ancient trees provide valuable ecosystems services and are a living link to our society’s social and economic history. The Government is committed to recognising the importance of trees – young and old - by delivering programmes and policies which bring the benefits of trees into all of our lives. We therefore recently launched a consultation on the England Tree Strategy. This includes proposals to increase protections for our trees and woodlands, including through improving the criteria for applying Tree Preservation Orders. Such proposals would build on existing work to protect trees through regulations and the planning system. Responses are invited to that consultation, which can be accessed through GOV.UK:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/developing-a-tree-strategy-for-england

In the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) an ancient or veteran tree is defined as: ‘A tree which, because of its age, size and condition, is of exceptional biodiversity, cultural or heritage value.’ Ancient and veteran trees are irreplaceable habitats, which are of great importance for wildlife, cultural, economic and historic value. The Government is committed to ensuring ancient and veteran trees are adequately protected and suitably managed to provide a wide range of social, environmental and economic benefits to society. We therefore strengthened the protection of ancient and veteran trees through the NPPF and the supporting National Planning Practice Guidance. The NPPF now recognises ancient and veteran trees as irreplaceable habitats and aligns the planning system more closely with Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which aims to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.

The Government has long recognised public concern over tree felling and any impacts on woodlands, including ancient woodlands. The Forestry Commission is responsible for the licensing of sustainable tree felling across England. In respect of ancient trees, its decisions are underpinned by the Keepers of Time policy (2005) and the ancient and native woodland practice guidelines. The Forestry Commission works hard to ensure that illegal felling is discouraged and illegally felled woodland is restocked, taking appropriate enforcement action when necessary. We are taking further measures through the Environment Bill to give the Forestry Commission more powers to tackle illegal tree felling, further strengthening the protection of all wooded landscapes, including ancient trees. We are also using the Environment Bill to improve protection of our existing urban trees, by introducing a new duty on local highway authorities, to ensure they consult the public when considering felling urban street trees. This will ensure that the views of the public are considered in the management of these important assets.

In addition to this, as part of our current consultation on the England Tree Strategy, we are considering whether changes need to be made to the Tree Preservation Order criteria to improve protection for trees. Tightening the current criteria could improve consistency in the application of the policy and provide the opportunity to include more relevant factors to the environment, such as carbon sequestration. Feedback from stakeholders has shown us that Tree Preservation Orders are valued as a way to protect trees, but work is needed to bring the system up-to-date and ensure they are applied and enforced with consistency. Greater clarification of the criteria for making a Tree Preservation Order, including consideration of ecosystem service values, would be helpful. We would welcome views on this as part of the consultation.

Ancient trees provide valuable ecosystems services and are a living link to our society’s social and economic history. Existing, proportionate regulations balance this inherent value with local accountability and national interest. With this suite of existing regulations and protections, ancient trees are well-protected and we therefore do not believe that further legal rights are necessary.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This is a revised response. The Petitions Committee requested a response which more directly addressed the request of the petition. You can find the original response towards the bottom of the petition page (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/300050)

Other parliamentary business

Original Government response

We have extensive controls on tree felling and are providing more protections through the Environment Bill. We are consulting on what more could be done through the England Tree Strategy consultation.

Trees have an important role to play for the climate, the economy, society and nature itself. The Government is committed to recognising that importance by delivering programmes and policies, which bring the benefits of trees into all of our lives. We therefore recently launched a consultation on the England Tree Strategy. This includes proposals to increase protections for our trees and woodlands, including through improving the criteria for applying Tree Preservation Orders. Such proposals would build on existing work to protect trees through regulations and the planning system. Responses are invited to that consultation, which can be accessed through GOV.UK:
https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/developing-a-tree-strategy-for-england

In the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) an ancient or veteran tree is defined as: ‘A tree which, because of its age, size and condition, is of exceptional biodiversity, cultural or heritage value.’ Ancient and veteran trees are irreplaceable habitats, which are of great importance for wildlife, cultural, economic and historic value. The Government is committed to ensuring ancient and veteran trees are adequately protected and suitably managed to provide a wide range of social, environmental and economic benefits to society. We therefore strengthened the protection of ancient and veteran trees through the NPPF and the supporting National Planning Practice Guidance. The NPPF now recognises ancient and veteran trees as irreplaceable habitats and aligns the planning system more closely with Defra’s 25 Year Environment Plan, which aims to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.

The Government has long recognised public concern over tree felling and any impacts on woodlands, including ancient woodlands. The Forestry Commission is responsible for the licensing of sustainable tree felling across England. In respect of ancient trees, its decisions are underpinned by the Keepers of Time policy (2005) and the ancient and native woodland practice guidelines. The Forestry Commission works hard to ensure that illegal felling is discouraged and illegally felled woodland is restocked, taking appropriate enforcement action when necessary. We are taking further measures through the Environment Bill to give the Forestry Commission more powers to tackle illegal tree felling, further strengthening the protection of all wooded landscapes, including ancient trees. We are also using the Environment Bill to improve protection of our existing urban trees, by introducing a new duty on local highway authorities, to ensure they consult the public when considering felling urban street trees. This will ensure that the views of the public are considered in the management of these important assets.

In addition to this, as part of our current consultation on the England Tree Strategy, we are considering whether changes need to be made to the Tree Preservation Order criteria to improve protection for trees. Tightening the current criteria could improve consistency in the application of the policy and provide the opportunity to include more relevant factors to the environment, such as carbon sequestration. Feedback from stakeholders has shown us that Tree Preservation Orders are valued as a way to protect trees, but work is needed to bring the system up-to-date and ensure they are applied and enforced with consistency. Greater clarification of the criteria for making a Tree Preservation Order, including consideration of ecosystem service values, would be helpful. We would welcome views on this as part of the consultation.

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

This response was given on 26 June 2020. The Petitions Committee then requested a revised response, that more directly addressed the request of the petition.