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NEWS RELEASE No: 1345931 MARCH 2010

New policy on when to convert woods and forests to open habitats in England

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Wild play

Defra and Forestry Commission England have announced a new policy that will increase important wildlife habitats and also recognises the important role of trees in storing carbon and providing other benefits.

The policy will allow some of England's most important open habitats such as heathland to be restored and expanded from woodland plantations over the coming decades while increasing the benefits that woods and forests bring.

Restoring and expanding these open habitats will provide more opportunities for wildlife such as Dorset heath, adder, sand lizard, woodlark, curlew and silver-studded blue butterfly.

The England Biodiversity Strategy includes targets for restoring and expanding open habitats.  Much of the woodland and forest expansion during the 20th Century happened on what we now value as open habitats.  Removing some of this plantation can help achieve these targets.  At the same time as removing trees from some areas, we need a significant increase in tree planting in other areas. Today Defra and the Forestry Commission announced the establishment of a Woodland Carbon Task Force.  This will drive forward an increase in the creation of woodland in the right places to absorb carbon dioxide and increase all the many other benefits of woodland.

The open habitats policy combined with increased woodland creation will ensure that woods and forests in England fulfil their potential to contribute to both biodiversity and greenhouse gas reduction.  Site by site decisions will ensure that quality habitats are created.  Across England, woodland and forest removal will be balanced with increases in woodland and forest creation.  This will include making sure that the total area of productive woods and forests such as conifers is not reduced.  Local communities will be fully involved in the early stages of any proposal about their local landscape.

Huw Irranca-Davies, Minister for the Natural and Marine Environment said:

"This new approach balances the need to improve habitats for our wildlife while ensuring that we have the right trees in the right places. Woodlands and forests provide a natural tool to help stop damaging climate change and this solution balances the need to provide more habitats for our wildlife, while still increasing our woodland and forest cover to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Pam Warhurst, Chair Forestry Commission added:

"Getting the balance right between restoring land best suited for some of our rarest birds and other wildlife, without undermining the capacity of our woods and forests to lock away carbon and help curb climate change was always going to be challenging. Our open-habitats policy shows that by integrating land-uses at the right scale and pace - in this case open habitats and woodland creation - it is possible to come up with solutions to such challenges. Key to achieving that balance was taking on-board the views of local communities, as well as national wildlife organisations and the timber industry.”

Poul Christensen, Chair, Natural England concluded:

“Natural England welcomes the progress made in this policy. Balancing the need to remove trees from some areas to benefit biodiversity with the need to increase tree cover to absorb carbon has been a challenging policy to get right. We are confident that the balances and checks in this policy framework provide the best opportunity for success in delivering the woodland element of the targets for the restoration of open habitats while maintaining the contribution that woodland expansion can make for climate change mitigation. We look forward to delivering this policy in partnership with the Forestry Commission and others. Early success stories are needed to give the policy momentum as progress towards the 1,000ha a year goal is critical to meeting the Biodiversity Action Plan targets.”



  1. The Forestry Commission is the government department responsible in England for protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of woods and forests and increasing their value to society and the environment. Further information can be found at

  2. The document explaining the new policy on when to convert woods and forests to open habitats in England can be found at as well as the evidence and consultation that support it.

  3. The evidence from the Forestry Commission's policy development indicates that the appropriate level of ambition for converting woods and forests to open habitat is about 1,000ha per year, provided the rate of woodland and forest creation accelerates. There may be a slower start which increases towards this rate, balancing the rate of woodland and forest removal with an increase in the rate of woodland and forest expansion. The UK Low Carbon Transition Plan (2009) sets out how an additional 10,000ha per year of woodland creation would help reduce greenhouse gases by up to 50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2050 as well as providing other benefits.

  4. The Woodland Carbon Task Force led by the Forestry Commission was established as part of Defra’s Climate Change Plan announced on 31 March 2010.  The Task Force will work to establish the conditions for significant private sector investment in woodland creation, increased supply and demand of woodfuel, and greater uptake in general of sustainable forest management practices.

  5. Information on the UK Biodiversity Action Plan is here

  6. Media contact: Stuart Burgess,, 01223 346027.