30th March 2012

The Government's response to the Forestry Regulation Task Force has been published setting the tone and direction for forestry in the UK with implications for woodland bats and biodiversity.

The response follows the publication in October of the Forestry Regulation Task Force report Challenging Assumptions, Changing Perceptions which challenged Government to look at the way the forestry sector is regulated and made recommendations to improve existing processes.

The Industry Led Forestry Regulation Task Force was asked by the Government to review the relevant regulations and their implementation for both the management of existing forests and the establishment of new ones. The Task Force sought views from a range of stakeholders including the forestry industry, NGOs and community representatives. When asked to rank the regulations which had the most significant impact on their business, respondents to the Task Force's call for evidence cited Wildlife Regulations as imposing the highest level of burden; with the final report stating the 'The Task Force holds the view that the Government should continually strive to remove individual species from the Annex to the Habitats Regulations, and recognises the need to have a sound evidence base to successfully negotiate these changes in Europe.'

Our response to the key points in the Government's reaction to the task force recommendations are as follows:

Earned recognition

Whilst the principle of giving official recognition to woodland owners and managers who demonstrate compliance and achieve desired outcomes is supported by BCT, we will remain involved to ensure that any development of this system recognise bat conservation needs.

Woodland owner perception

There is a Government desire to improve their understanding of the aspirations and objectives of owners of unmanaged woodlands to aid future policy interventions and assistance towards bringing more of this into management. BCT has a role to ensure that the message on the present promotion of management of currently unmanaged woodland takes into account the importance of these habitats for woodland bats.

Civil Sanctions

The use of civil sanctions by the Forestry Commission could provide a proportionate means of ensuring that any non-compliant woodland owners made good the damage caused by their actions without being subject to criminal penalties. BCT is involved in discussions as part of the Wildlife Law Review and would welcome the extension of civil sanctions to include woodland.

Partnership working

This is being encouraged and examples given include the England Woodland and Timber Partnership and the England Woodland Biodiversity Group on both of which BCT are members and will continue to influence messages to Government as part of those groups.

Wildlife Regulation

Respondents to the Task Force's call for evidence cited wildlife regulations as having the highest level of burden on their business and the Task Force recommended that more resources be devoted to establishing a sound evidence base for determining to what degree approved woodland management activities affect European Protected Species. BCT fully supported that stance as an area of research that has been under-funded and so welcomes the Government action to continue to fund research on the effect of woodland management on European Protected Species. The Government's recognition of the Habitats Regulations as a major safeguard for the most important nature conservation sites and species is also welcomed.

The Government action for the Forestry Commission to work with the forestry sector, species experts and Natural England to improve the current Forestry Commission guidance on managing woodland with protected species to underpin the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) in England has already been instigated by BCT. We will continue to work with the Forestry Commission to ensure that additional information about bats and their needs and the effects of woodland management are readily available as a direct link from the UKFS guidance. The updating of current guidance on habitats regulations and forestry will also be an area of collaboration for BCT where professional standards of practice will again be promoted.

Planning - Local Authorities Consideration is being given to local authorities' planning responsibilities and what guidance will be appropriate to accompany the new National Planning Policy. BCT will continue to work via an industry panel to influence planning advice.