Native and ancient woodland are to be at the heart of England's forestry policy, Forestry Minister Jim Knight said at the launch of the Government's Policy Statement for England's Native and Ancient Woodland at Chiddingfold today.
Mr Knight said the policy sets out an ambitious vision for England's ancient woodlands, representing a significant change in emphasis for forestry activities in England.
"Native and ancient woodlands make up around half of England's total woodland area and are home to some of our rarest wildlife, provide excellent educational and recreation opportunities, and are a source of hardwood timber and other renewable resources," he said.
"We need a strong policy framework to ensure ancient woodland, veteran trees and other native woodlands are adequately protected, sustainably managed, and provide a wide range of social, environmental and economic benefits to our communities."
Mr Knight said the new policy represented a significant change in emphasis for forestry activities in England by placing native and ancient woodland at the heart of forestry policy.
"This policy makes addressing threats and decline in woodlands a top priority, along with implementing management with a light touch, so that we work with people and nature as much as possible.
"It also recognises the importance of taking a 'whole landscape' perspective - quite literally, taking a bird's-eye view of our woodlands to determine the best overall management."
The Forestry Commission would lead the implementation of the policy with contributions from other departments, public bodies, and other organisations.
"It's also absolutely fundamental that we work closely with the many private owners of these woodlands, and we are particularly keen to engage with people who may not be aware of the value and vulnerability of their woodlands," Mr Knight said.
As well as containing key policy principles, this statement sets out a series of strategic objectives that will act as a framework for action and underpin a series of initiatives over the coming years.
The Policy Statement has been prepared jointly by Defra and the Forestry Commission England. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses of Parliament, and can be viewed on the Forestry Commission's website.