Guidance

Get consent to convert woodland to open habitats

Find out how to apply for consent for change of use to convert woodland to open habitat.

Halting and then reversing declines in biodiversity is one of the government’s objectives. Converting some types of woodland to open habitat can be good for several key species.

But the overarching policy for the sustainable management of forests and woodlands in the UK is a presumption against the conversion of forest land to other land uses (deforestation) unless there’s a compelling reason in the public interest for doing so. As a result, applications to convert woodland to open habitat must comply with government policy on when to convert woods and forests to open habitat in England.

With some exceptions, permission through a felling licence from the Forestry Commission is usually required to fell growing trees. If you plan to permanently remove woodland where there may be a significant environmental impact, you may require an Environmental Statement and Forestry Commission consent under Environmental Impact Assessment regulations.

Find out how to get an Environmental Impact Assessment before you fell trees if you plan to permanently remove woodland cover.

How to apply for an Environmental Impact Assessment determination

You’ll need to complete the application form to convert woodland to open habitat.

Once completed the form should be sent to us with either a completed felling licence application and/or the Environmental Impact Assessment opinion request form if you’re felling trees.

If you’re proposing work on or near to a protected site, such as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), you’ll need to include an endorsement for the proposals from the local Natural England reserves manager or advisor indicating how the removal of woodland will significantly improve the condition of the protected site. Find out how the Forestry Commission supports you if you operate in woodland designated a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

If you’re outside of a protected site, you’ll need to demonstrate that the open habitat creation will have a significant beneficial effect in linking or enlarging an open habitat complex, and you’ll need to consider where you will provide compensatory tree planting in another location.

The Forestry Commission will assess your proposals and decide if they meet government policy on when to convert woods and forests to open habitat in England, and if delivering them would result in a significant environmental impact.

If the project’s impact can be managed proportionally and the environmental impact kept to a minimum, consent should not be required.

Environmental Statement

If the project will have significant effects, you must produce an Environmental Statement, assessing the specific issues that your project has greatest impact on. These will be determined by a scoping meeting to which key knowledgeable stakeholders will be invited.

Writing an Environmental Statement can be expensive, so trying to plan your project’s methods for delivery, scale and timing is important, as is engaging with local stakeholders to tell them what you want to do. The Forestry Commission will review your statement, and if it adequately addresses the issues originally raised, you’ll be asked to publish it for stakeholder and public comment. This may result in further advice and the need for further project modification. There’s no time limit to how long this will take.

Once the final Environmental Statement is agreed, the Forestry Commission will either grant consent with conditions, or refuse consent.

How to appeal

If your application does not get consent, you can appeal against this decision. You’ll need to contact your local Forestry Commission area office.

If this appeal is unsuccessful, you can appeal to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Read Natural England’s guide on how to appeal a refusal or change of consent.

Published 9 July 2018