Has Owen Gone Off-piste on Offsetting?

Owen Paterson (Secretary of State for the Environment at Defra) has moved the discussion about biodiversity offsetting both back up the agenda and backwards too, with his comments reported on Saturday that ancient woodland could be part of an offsetting scheme where for every tree lost from an ancient wood there would be 100 new trees planted.

All through last year’s discussions about offsetting there had been agreement between Government advisors, academics and conservation organisations that some habitats are just not suitable for inclusion within an offsetting scheme; ancient woodland was specifically mentioned as such within the Defra consultation and Mr Paterson agreed with this view at the Stakeholder Summit that he hosted in May last year. Hence, our willingness to engage in further discussion to develop a system for biodiversity offsetting that had already safely excluded ancient woodland from its remit.

So it may come as a surprise to some that over the Christmas period he seems to have undertaken a complete U-turn on the proposed policy, but this would not be the first time that a Government minister has changed their mind!

We are currently waiting for the Government’s official response to the offsetting consultation that ran in Autumn 2013 which could pave the way for the launch of a national biodiversity offsetting scheme by the end of 2015. The Government’s own offsetting pilot projects are yet to finish and there is little sign of clear evidence emerging from them so far.

The on-going confusion about the impact biodiversity offsetting could have on ancient woodland is one of the key reasons we have been so involved and so vocal within this debate. Our activity so far includes running an online campaign, publishing a series of blogs, submitting our own written evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee and appearing as a witness in front of the committee as well as submitting a detailed response to the Defra consultation.

The current system is clearly not working; ancient woodland is specifically mentioned as a habitat to avoid within national planning policy and yet despite this there are currently around 380 ancient woods in England threatened by development.

Could offsetting deal with these problems? For some habitats, if done properly it has potential to be a viable and transparent way of ensuring that developers pay for residual environmental damage endorsed by the planning system – in a way which doesn’t happen now. Done badly, it could simply provide developers with a ‘licence to trash the environment’ – especially where developers seek to dress up offsetting as a potential ‘benefit’ of a development.

In the absence of either national guidance on compensation or an official offsetting scheme, planning decisions currently proceed on a case-by-case basis, with compensation proposals for loss of ancient woodland that vary greatly and frequently misunderstand the value of biodiversity and the complexity of ecosystems. In the last year we have seen cases where compensation for loss of ancient woodland has suggested ratios as low as 2:1 for replacement, even on Government sponsored schemes; this is far short of the levels of compensation that would be expected for the loss of a species rich secondary woodland calculated under the pilot offsetting guidance. This clearly suggests that some way of properly reflecting the importance and value of ancient woodland would be a good idea, either by giving them complete protection under planning regulations or deriving compensation ratios for ancient woodland that became so large and punitive as to effectively rule out development on all ancient woods.

But not all the Government’s policy intentions result in good scheme design, and who would provide the skills, training and resources needed to achieve effective implementation and impartial advice and enforcement? Currently less than a third of planning authorities have the in-house skills and knowledge to accurately assess the ecological impact of a development, let alone offsetting proposals. While this process does not need to be undertaken by the planning authority there is a need for it to be open and clear and subject to challenge, by both directly-affected parties and third party interests where necessary.

We have always said that all ancient woodland in the UK should be protected and that ancient woodland should not be part of a biodiversity offsetting scheme. However, while the loophole within the planning regime remains that allows irreplaceable habitats like ancient woodland to continue to be destroyed as part of local planning decisions, a bespoke compensation scheme may increasingly become a necessary evil to restore some balance.

We will not support a scheme that facilitates the easy removal of ancient woodland, even if offered 100 times the number of trees in return. What we want is a scientifically based scheme that assesses and takes account of the complex ecological processes that underpin our environment, one that does not trade-in irreplaceable elements of our environment for short term gain. There is too much at stake here to allow Government backtracking on offsetting and ancient woodland to become the stuff of a spurious and unnecessary sacrifice on the altar of ‘growth at any cost’.

Ancient woodland covers only 2% of the UK, so we do not believe the public will buy the idea that ancient woodland must somehow be sacrificed to tackle much needed house building. It’s time for the Government to show it understands the failings of its own stated policies on planning and ancient woodland and time it got back in step with the public who value and want to keep all our ancient woods, now and for the future.

Austin Brady, Head of Conservation

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About Austin Brady

Director of Conservation (UK) at the Woodland Trust
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60 Responses to Has Owen Gone Off-piste on Offsetting?

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  4. petrel41 says:

    Congratulations!

    I have nominated your blog for the Lighthouse Award.

    More about this nomination is at

    http://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/the-lighthouse-award-thank-you-horty/

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      Dear Kitty, thank you so much for this award! We really appreciate you thinking of us – how lovely to be thought of as a beacon :D and be recognised as creating “beautiful, heartwarming, and inspirational blogs”. As the creator, Good Time Stories (http://goodtimestories.wordpress.com/2013/12/12/the-lighthouse-award-2) says, “Their blogs bring us happiness, enlighten our hearts, and bring a little joy to our lives when we visit their pages. The work that these people have done has truly given us rays of light in a gloomy world.” We try hard to inspire our readers about the wonders of woodland and trees as well as encourage everyone to play their part in protecting what we have left, and planting more for the future. Our guest bloggers really add to this too. I agree with you that it’s an honour, I hope we can live up to it!! Thanks again.

  5. Mike Cleary says:

    Would it be acceptable for the government to demolish a 13th century Cathedral to make way for a hundred new houses ? Most of our ancient woodland is listed in the the Doomsday Book in 1087. Wake up Mr.Patterson our historic past cannot be replaced by developers! Mike Cleary.

  6. Peter Wilding says:

    Interesting range of views here. I can understand the concerns about “unwinnability” and the attraction of trying to be pragmatic and sensible-seeming in deciding how to respond.

    However there is a problem. Simply put, a few more centuries of infrastructure and housing development, at the rates seen in the last hundred years or so, would use up most of the British lowland countryside and leave us with just a few nature reserves isolated in an endless sea of buildings, people and (perhaps) some intensive farms.

    This process has got to stop sometime and it would be better if it stopped now.

    I suggest the best position would be to oppose any destruction of ancient woodland – but perhaps allow offsetting, subject to stringent safeguards, where development was only going to affect recently planted or secondary woodland.

    In principle, any new infrastructure such as HS2 can be rerouted to go around – or under – anything. If rerouting to avoid ancient woodland is too expensive, the decision should be not to build the object in question. It is still far from clear that HS2 is necessary or will be built.

    • June McCarthy says:

      Regarding HS2, surely it is the duty of Government, especially in times of austerity, to obtain the maximum benefit for the maximum number of its people when spending public money.

      It seems to me that it would profit the country more to rebuild the general railway network , than spend millions on a prestige project such as Hs2.

      If we rebuild the railway network and divert freight onto railways , this would decrease the number of freight lorries,free up our roads, make journey times faster, and benefit all of us rather than a minority of the business class. Developing HS2, on the other hand, will mostly benefit the richer business minority who want to live away from the cities but commute into them to work.

      Improving the general capacity and efficiency of the rail network will also benefit the environment by reducing pollutant emissions from long traffic jams.

    • I agree with this comment. HS2 is unnecessary and if built much more of it could be underground. It will ruin the countryside around Wendover in particular.
      Ancient woodland by its very name has taken 100s of years to mature and these special habitats cannot suddenly be reproduced by planting whips of willow, hazel etc

  7. Sylvia Stanton says:

    This is the action of a man who, clearly, has no understanding of the natural world. Ancient woodland is what it is because of age, biodiversity, value of forest floor etc. No hundred new saplings can replace a lost forest giant or ancient tree. Look at National Arboretum- where is the understory, where are the fungi, wild flowers, nesting birds – one could continue. Offsetting today would be for a development in a hundred years time!

  8. michael barton says:

    getting some pragmatism in replies e.g “infrastructure improvement necessary” but “NOT HOUSES” and “complimentary planting” next existing woods ; build on open fields . Pragmatism and strong negotiation will get the best that can reasonably expected for all parties and for ALL: woodland

    • clive c says:

      Agree ~ we need to be pragmatic to remain credible.

      It is easier to block housing developments on planning grounds as they don’t have to be sited on that spot. When it comes to large infrastructure developments however it’s very difficult to reroute proposed pipe lines, underground powerlines and (dare I mention it) rail lines like HS2 as these tend to be planned to follow straight lines or long curves. Even new modern roads now a days cross fields rather than wind around existing field boundaries.

      So if we want new infrastructue investments in the future we need to accept that some prime landscape will be damaged in that process. What we need to fight for is the reinforcement of planning authority powers to insist on reinstatement of surface damage and compensatory replanting of woodland in the immediate locality of the desecration.

      To value the worth of a forest or woodland by age is too crude a measure. There are many woodlands that support endangered species in habitats that are not that “ancient”.

      But, so often environmental safeguards such as Environmental Impact assessments are ignored or overlooked. These might be inconvenient for developers ~ they may uncover factors that need to be taken into account. But we should insist that such measures are carried out and that the results of that assesment are taken into account by our planning authorities.

      This Government however seems to want to remove obstacles that frustrate developers. Another hallmark of their environmental legacy.

  9. June McCarthy says:

    It boils down to whether the natural world can recover from what man does, and the evidence shows that for many species, what we do to the environment endangers them. If the Uk had thriving populations of wildlife with very litlle endangered species, and plenty of ancient woodland , perhaps we could consider these proposals for offsett in an objective way. But we have a small percentage of ancient woodland remaining, many endangered species of insects and birds. Felling ancient woodland not only destroys the trees but the majority of wildlife in it. The wildlife in a woodland can not immediately move to new sapling trees and new trees can not provide the food and shelter of long established mature forest.

    We must place more value on our natural environment, not less. How can we ask third world countries to preserve their forests when we do not preserve our own?

    I am afraid that it is unpalatable to some, but we would need less housing if we had a lower level of immigration, Surely Europe does not want Britain to lose its ancient woodlands which are wonderful natural heritage sites.

  10. MICHAEL BARTON says:

    I DONT THINK THIS MINISTER PATERSON HAS THE RIGHT BACKGROUND OR APPROACH FOR THIS JOB. however WE HAVE TO FACE UP TO CHANGE AND OFF-SETTING IF CAMPAIGNED BY PRAGMATIC GOOD NEGOTIATORS COULD PERSUE, FOR EXAMPLE GETTING MONEY AND AUTHORITY TO OBTAIN VITAL GAP FILLING WHERE TWO WOODS APART WOULD MAKE A MORE VIABLE HABITATE IF MADE INTO ONE. ON HS1 ROUTE WE GOT MILLIONS OF TREES AND MILLIONS OF MONEY FOR THE COBHAM/ASHENBANK INITIATIVE WHICH SECURED HUNDREDS OF HECTARES OF CONSERVATION BETWEEN THE RAILWAY/A2 ROAD AND THE NORTH DOWNS AONB I.E SOUTH OF THAMES.

  11. cliffdean says:

    And once our woodland heritage is thrown away and all these houses built, who is going to buy them? As an increase in house prices is once more celebrated as a sign of economic “recovery” I despair, for already my children have no hope of ever buying a house in our area and little of renting anywhere decent or affordable.

  12. sue thorne says:

    Sorry if the Government gets away with this it will be the thin end of the wedge and all Ancient Woodland will be removed as part of an “Offsetting Scheme”. Ancient woods should be protected full stop and absolutley no way ever should it be touched the eco systems destroyed will never recover as it has taken hundreds of years for the woods to reach this stage so therefore any off setting scheme is a waste of time.

    • This is unwinnable. HS2 etc will go ahead but if a larger area of “new” woodland is created adjoining the woodland affected then, in time it will return to what it probably was before its previous clearance and ecology will migrate easily. This will extend the woodland even though a portion is lost.
      If divided each division must be added to to ensure it is sustainable, perhaps a minimum acreage?

      • michael barton says:

        Agree with Randall Evans and Clive c. Thought I might be out on a limb in my pragmatism but feel support is growing !! I hear MORE TREES – yes we need them and lets grab all we can as we did on HS1

        • June McCarthy says:

          What is being proposed is substitution of ancient woodland, of great value to man and wildlife, for plantings of young new trees, of less value to wildlife and man, with less diverse ecology. What is to stop these new plantings being removed in the future to make way for more development? Nothing!

          Either ancient woodland is precious or it isn’t, is worth preserving or it isn’t. We have to decide, pragmatism is not a decision. You might as well forget trying to preserve anything.

          If the pragmatists have their way, It is quite disheartening to see that really nothing is protected and that you can not protect any mature tree unless you own it and the land it grows on and it is not troubling your neighbours!!! A local Councillor recently crticicised my County Council for allowing trees to grow tall, “troublesome trees” he called them, Well until we can all breathe carbon dioxide, I think we need to take a deep breath and educate Councillors on the importance of trees and when we say they are protected, mean it!

  13. David Robert Hann says:

    What is the definition of ancient woodland?Personally I think this offsetting scheme will only allow developers free reign to destroy our precious woodland because in doing so they wil say well that’s alright because we will plant some new trees.Developers must not be allowed to destroy our woodland at stroke them re-plant trees which will takes decades if not centuries to grow.

    • Austin Brady says:

      David – thanks for your interest. We produced a ‘toolkit’ recently to help local communities respond to threats to their local ancient woodlands posed by the High Speed 2 rail project. Here is an extract on ancient woodland:

      Ancient woods are areas that have been continuously wooded since at least 1600, and often much longer. They are our richest land-based habitat. They have had relatively little disturbance over centuries, which has allowed them to develop complex and diverse ecological communities of plants and animals. These woods are home to many rare and threatened species. In addition, ancient woods are archaeological treasure troves, living records of past land use, and are also some of our most beautiful places to visit. Even where modified by replanting with non-native trees, ancient woods retain important ancient woodland features and species, and have potential to be restored. Ancient woods are irreplaceable. Newly planted woodland will develop some value for wildlife, but, planted on soils that have been modified by human activity, they are unlikely ever to attain all the natural characteristics of an ancient wood, and certainly will not accumulate the same cultural value. In the UK, only around 2 per cent of land is now covered with ancient woodland and that which remains is very fragmented.

      You can download the whole toolkit and extra factsheets at http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/learn/threats-to-our-woodland/human-impact/hs2-community-resources/

  14. Sarah Vollans says:

    Let us allow our well-qualified young people to sort out the large number of empty dwellings and also, on the new housing, have better quality and better designed builds with green areas for all, before we start on our trees. It is Redrow et al, not windfarms, that are an eyesore and trees require all our help!

  15. Anthony Powell says:

    When you learn about soil, you find that it takes centuries or millennia to lay those strata, it can’t be done with spades, ploughs nor bulldozers. Upon this depends the ecosystem above and within.
    Planting those ‘100’ will likely involve nursery grown plants, of a selected range, and grown from a limited seed stock (or worse, cuttings), so will lack the species and genetic diversity of those that would develop naturally, or be adapted to local conditions.
    I’ve watched developers building on a local plot: they cleared and levelled everything, with no respect for what was there. They start from a blank canvas, with maximum damage to soil and ecosystem, and maximum use of fossil fuel. Instead of looking at what’s there, and how their buildings can be incorporated. They’ve now planted up with non-natives, that aren’t even edible, so encouraging food miles.

  16. Mark Fisher says:

    So where has the willingness to engage in further discussion to develop a system for biodiversity offsetting got you now? Could it be why Paterson is cooking up some legislation on the back of conservation covenants that would seem to give NGOs a privileged position? This sentence in the recent press coverage brought it all back to me:
    “Paterson also said that he wanted the scheme to be compulsory in order to get environment and wildlife groups involved in identifying sites where developers could invest their money”

    Let’s just remember the public’s outrage at losing a large area of publicly-owned, non-farmed, open access land, and which the NGOs only saw in terms of their own, individual single issues, and what they might get out of the Public Forest Estate if it was carved up. You also have to understand that the public don’t have the same fixation with the alleged ecological value of what constitutes “biodiversity” and were very tee-ed off with the crass, snobbish and self-interested dismissal of their local (plantation) woodland, especially by Mark Avery! Worse still, the conservation industry is constantly blackguarding secondary woodland as being of “low value”, but is perfectly happy to fell that woodland in often futile attempts to recreate heathland and downland habitats. The missing ingredient is the latterday peasants beating the life out of the soil through various extractive uses so that the effects of that secondary woodland is reversed! Tells you something about woodland, doesnt it?!!!

    It was the Law Commission’s consultation on conservation covenants last March that first rang warning bells, the inclusion of NGOs in the categories of responsible holders of covenants, identifying them as bodies “sufficiently open to scrutiny” that their inclusion is warranted. Well, that assertion was immediately trashed when the document showed that the other two categories – public bodies and local authorities – were subject to FOI, but as many local people have learnt through bitter experience, NGOs aren’t!

    The next bombshell was that the Law Commission was not convinced that a statutory oversight element was necessary in England. They thought the public interest in the objectives for which conservation covenants may be made, would be protected by “trusted and regulated charities”!!!!!

    Then we get the potential uses for conservation covenants:
    “A wildlife charity identifies a plot of land as containing the habitat of a native bird species. It makes an offer to the landowner in return for the land being maintained as a habitat; the landowner agrees”

    Oh goody! But it goes on:
    “Many public and voluntary sector conservation bodies seek to acquire land that has conservation value and is currently in private ownership. Their aim may be to preserve the land in its present state, to carry out improvement work or to ensure that a part of a site is protected from development. Outright acquisition of the freehold or a long leasehold is sometimes the only workable way of achieving their objectives. However, this can often be an “over-investment”; it may be more cost-effective to negotiate a conservation covenant, allowing the landowner to retain ownership and a degree of use of the land”

    This paragraph also turns up in the Summary of Evidence for the DEFRA consultation on Biodiversity Offsetting in England last September, but in the context of “the inefficiency of using land purchase to secure conservation benefits”. Seems more like covenants being used as a justification for offsetting. The consultation document itself has this:
    “Taking account of the Law Commission’s work, the Government is considering making conservation covenants part of an offsetting system as they would require the long-term management of the land irrespective of changes in ownership”

    When I went back to check progress on the Law Commission’s work on conservation covenants, I came across a December project update that said that Prof. Elizabeth Cooke, who is leading the project, will be speaking about it at a conference in February this year at the University of Dundee. The conference theme?

    “The privatisation of biodiversity”

    This from the conference description:
    “At a time when the resources available to the public conservation agencies are likely to be restricted, the greater emphasis on private initiative and funding is of particular interest. As well as being legal innovations, such mechanisms also present a different view of biodiversity interests in terms of legal status, their nature as public or private goods and their place in relation to competing public and private interests. To the extent that they represent a “privatisation” or “commoditisation” of conservation, this marks a significant departure from existing conceptual approaches which view nature more as a common heritage than as a subject of commercial transactions”

    Well – a real issue for public debate there!!!

    • Austin Brady says:

      Mark – thanks for extending the debate a bit further! The concept of ‘privatisation of biodiversity’ is a worrying one, particularly in a climate where conversations about biodiversity offsetting can very quickly move in to questions of ‘habitat banking’ and ‘payment for ecosystem services’. These are areas where Owen Paterson’s enthusiasm for ‘market’ solutions, reported in The Times, raise even more questions. Austin Brady

  17. argylesock says:

    Reblogged this on Science on the Land and commented:
    argylesock says… Paterson lost the plot.

  18. clive c says:

    Disappointed with this article as it falls into the trap of appearing to campaign to protect just ancient woodlands. We have been here before ~ prior to the Forest sell-off debacle the Government sought to categorise woodlands by age and perceived value in an attempt to suggest that some forests were less valuable than others . The public from communities across the counrty gave voice in the defense of their local forest (ancient or modern) ~ the Government backed down. But did they really do a U-turn ? We are in danger of turning full circle.

    ALL forests and woodlands provide a foodchain which supports a diversity of species and a diversity of habitats. The species which thrive in ALL these woodland habitats deserve our protection. Habitat should not be regarded as a tradable asset.

    The Government proposals have little to do with maintaining bio-diversity in the counrtyside. They are a cynical attempt to create a framework so as to facilitate and fast-track the development process.

    • Austin Brady says:

      Clive – I agree that all woods and forests can make a valuable contribution to society and the environment (see my response to Imogen below). The relationship between different woodland and non-woodland habitats is becoming increasingly important in the face of impacts from climate, pests and diseases, and continued fragmentation. Recognising these issues and finding ways to make our natural environment more resilient in the future will, I think, need a more joined up approach across a wide range of habitats. Thanks for your comment. Austin Brady

  19. Rwth Hunt says:

    Obviously, an ecological perspective has to be taken, but it is also a matter of time. Ancient woodland does more than support an ecosystem or series of ecosystems, but it is a defence against floods NOW. It supports the structure of the land in a way that new forestry cannot do for at least a couple of generations, probably more. Paterson’s cynical view will allow the destruction of the landscape, landslides, flooding and loss of ecosystems while the developers plant tiny plots of small trees, far too close together which will not be able to support the landscape in a meaningful way.
    He had bought into the microbiology view of ‘Science’ as though that is the only science worth thinking about. He will preside over destruction of bee habitats, the strengthening of cruciferous weed population through GM all in the name of ‘Progress’. Whatever he has done to ameliorate flood in the short term will be undone by the offsetting of ancient woodland. He is stupid and ignorant in the way some scientists are who only worship their own version of progress. Defra have been shoddy and slipshod in their work for at least 2 generations and all the good done by Hilary Benn has been chucked out of the window. I’m not an apologist for socialism, but an environmentalist who really cares about terrestrial ecology. Paterson is out of step with European Government thinking and is giving the US poison merchants a piggy back into our back pockets, as well as destroying our environment.

  20. Imogen Radford says:

    I agree with most of the article, but am disappointed that — as ever — the Woodland Trust only argues for ancient woodland, not all woodlands and forests. All of our forests and woodlands (and we don’t have many in this country — about 10% of England, far below other European countries) are valuable for people, for nature, for the environment and the economy. They are essential in combating climate change, dealing with flood risk, providing habitats for a diverse wildlife, and they are extremely important for people for recreation and well-being. This applies just as much to the productive mixed coniferous and broadleaf forests in East Anglia as to the archetypal ancient forest in other parts of the country (and East Anglia).
    The arguments against Owen Paterson’s crass, ignorant and appalling pronouncements would be more powerful if they included all our forests and woodlands.

    • Austin Brady says:

      Imogen – I agree that productive mixed forests play an important part in delivering a wide range of social and environmental benefits, and their economic contribution is too easily overlooked. Their importance as a component of a diverse and resilient landscape has often been undervalued in the past. Our organisational objectives and priorities focus on native woods, and on the importance of protecting and valuing ancient woodland in particular because of its unique and irreplaceable nature. The main issue of this blog post, responding to risks posed to ancient woodland by ‘offsetting’, meant that’s where my focus was on this occassion. Austin Brady

  21. June McCarthy says:

    Our ancient woodland can not be replaced by saplings. Ancient woods support a myriad of life both above and below ground. What about the importance and the amazing life underfoot in the soil supported by root systems , fungi, the mycorrhiza, all the intricate interconnections and communication systems which have grown with the forest, all the insects and their larvae living in ancient tree root systems..
    British people love their ancient woods, the Woodland Trust only has to issue a rallying call and hundreds of thousands would come out to demonstrate and stop the felling of ancient woodland. The Government needs to tread carefully in our woods! I have come to the conclusion that we are governed by dolts.

    • Austin Brady says:

      Thanks June for your comments, it’s so important to remind ourselves that an ancient woodland is so much more than just the trees that we see there today! Austin Brady

  22. June McCarthy says:

    The comment has been made by the protagonists for the replacement of ancient woodland by housing, that they would plant a hundred trees for every one destroyed. Why don’t they just build new housing where they would plant the hundred saplings? Than we could preserve the ancient woodland and have the housing.

    The trouble is the Minister for the Environment has no qualifications or background in ecology or a true apprecaition of ancient woodland, if he did he would be defending it, not devising arguments for its destruction. Our Ministerial system is a bit daft- one miniute Owen Paterson is in Ireland and is supposed to be an immediate expert on terrorism and the troubles there, next cabinet reshuffle he is Secretary of State for the Environment and an expert supposedly on the natural environment and able to take major key decsions on something he does not really have in depth expert knowledge of.

    • Jim Clark says:

      We cynics would say that it is because he knows nothing about the environment is why Camerion gave him the job

  23. Jim Clark says:

    Paterson is definately up to the job. He is there to tell 99% of the population who care nothing and know nothing about conservation and this includes most members of conservation organisations and politicians, that offsetting is a good thing and will be of benefit to future generations, he has introduced this idea and with the help of the British media will sell it. Developers and contributors to Tory party funds will be happy. As long as they can see “nature programmes” on TV and visit a nature reserve now and again the British public will buy it. Ancient woodland and a few conservationists should not be allowed to stand in the way of progress.
    Of course he has also saved Britain from flooding isn’t he wonderful. However he and the rest of the population should realise that this past month is only the start, they better get used to this and worse to come. A shelter that has stood in Aberystwyth since Victorian times has been destroyed by the sea. That should set alarm bells ringing everywhere.
    Rather than destroying woodland in Britain and elsewhere governments worldwide should be doing their best to plant as many trees as possible.

  24. Eric Baines says:

    These Westminsterites have not a clue and could not care less about the rest of the UK beyond the M25 !!!! To destroy Ancient woodlands (in fact any woodlands )to support the claim housing is needed. is ridiculous’ There is no joined up thinking on where houses are built … usually developments are so far from work places, new infrastructure is additionally required to enable Developers to sell the houses thus risking more woodland including hedgerows to be destroyed.

  25. Simon Turner says:

    Fine, as long as the offset is allowed to grow into ancient woodland before the original woodland can be cut down.

  26. lesley.crowcroft@gmail.com says:

    My view of Owen Patterson cannot be put into an email. His other famous remark ‘the badgers moved the goal posts’ is to crass to be true. But true it is. It must be taken into consideration that Mr. Patterson does not understand the natural world, a member of the guild of leather tanners, agrees with fox hunting, he is an advocate of expansion at Heathrow and fully supports HS2. I believe that HS2 will destroy acres of ancient wood land, so this ‘off setting’ is just a ploy to be able to implement HS2 within the ‘law; Please keep fighting Lesley Crowcroft

  27. Finn Holding says:

    I can’t quite decide if Paterson is an incompetent cretin or so deep in the pockets of big business that he has to kowtow to their every whim. Or both.

    The latter I suspect.

    But the salient point here is that he has absolutely no interest in the environment or understanding of the importance of conserving the natural life-support mechanisms within it. His handling of the utter failure that was the badger cull is probably the worst example of his muddle headed decision making. I quote:

    “The badgers moved the goalposts. We’re dealing with a wild animal, subject to the vagaries of the weather and disease and breeding patterns,”

    This is the man that Cameron handed the environment brief to in his ‘greenest government ever’ (!). A truly frightening indication of the real priorities of the current administration.

  28. Mike Howe says:

    Excellent post, absolutely spot on, couldn’t agree more. For me the crucial point is the one you made about being able to replace ancient woodland with new trees. It betrays a complete lack of understanding about the ecological complexities of ancient woodland sites – they aren’t just a load of trees, they are a complex network of organisms from the soil to the canopy that has developed over a long time, and that’s the point. I’m afraid most people don’t understand the distinction and I believe it’s always been the job of those that do, like us, to educate and inform as much as possible. Well done on the significant effort you are making in this regard.

    • Austin Brady says:

      Thanks Mike for your support, I am afraid this issue is likely to be with us for a while. Austin Brady

  29. Peter Kyte says:

    Without stating the blindingly obvious, instead of demolishing ancient woodland for a development, why not build on the offset land instead?

  30. Ash says:

    I agree with so much of what has been said so far in these comments, but I don’t see anyone out there, in political circles, who can be trusted. This is my frustration! Just NOT voting in an election goes against the grain of so many; so what do we do?

  31. Randall Evans says:

    Every bit of ancient woodland cannot be sacrosanct. In some cases there is a justification for developing it for road, rail, canal. Housing is extremely debatable, I cannot personally see any justification for replacing ancient woodland with housing, however “environmentally friendly or sensitive.
    I would like to see the offset for the loss of ancient woodland to be ADJOINING the woodland and planting reflecting/adding to the amenity.
    OK for a few decades a loss of the ancient but long term it will be bigger. The probability is that land adjacent to ancient planting will itself have once been part of that planting, its just been “on holiday” for a while.
    Total opposition is a losing strategy, replacement by extending the remaining woodland could be winnable.
    Lets be positive and stay in the game!

    • Martin Rudland says:

      Total opposition is the only strategy. In fact upping the game to stand by the likes of HOOF (‘Hands Off Our Forests’) is very important. HOOF have appealed in their locality, in the Forest of Dean, for renewed support following the government’s response to the report by the Bishop of Liverpool re Forests in the UK which was requested due to the national outcry at this government’s attempt to sell off our Forests and Woodlands to those with the money. If you are not aware Randall, the government has produced much verbiage in its response to the Bishop of Liverpool’s report which cloaks means of maintaining the government’s initial aims to sell off our Forests, one difference perhaps is that the new government suggestion might take longer to do the sell-off deal!
      This government has learnt a bully technique and if we respond weakly they will keep taking. The Woodland Trust must stand very, very, strong with other NGOs, eg Friends of the Earth, CPRE, … .
      At conferences I have attended, Jonathan Porritt and HOOF have both expressed surprise at how weak the NGOs were at protecting our Forests and Woodlands against that initial government attempt to sell them off.
      NB that sell-off is back on the scene in an invidiously cloaked response by the government.
      Woodland Trust please do not give any semblance of weakness to this government, eg even allowing for exceptional circumstances will be taken as a thin end of a wedge. NB The SNP government (Scotland) cut flights last year by approximately 30% by using tele-conferences, so what is the HS2 for? The future can be different it does not need to be biodiversity destruction. The future can be sustainable. Nature has limits – read Andrew Simms of the ‘nef’ (New Economics Foundation) in the Observer of 5th Jan’14 and a new book ‘Cancel the Apocalypse’ due out Feb’14 pub Little,Brown.

      • Randall Evans says:

        I still believe it is unwinnable to oppose all loss of ancient woodland. Some new roads and HS2 are necessary infrastructure improvements as are Boris island. The fight should be to overcompensate for any losses due to infrastructure projects BUT NOT HOUSING or other development. To insist that the compensatory plantings adjoin existing ones may move the woodland a bit or leave it divided, but it will be larger in the long term and we are talikng long term. It is a simple, clear policy that is, I believe, realistic and allows us to develop the much needed infrastructure improvements with an overall gain in ancient woodland, albeit the new planting will have had a gap in time from the original.
        An additional benefit of planting adjacent to existing is the natural spread of living creatures, fungi etc as the new woodland ages.
        Total opposition sounds good but is unwinnable and once challenged and lost eg for HS2, the floodgates open. I do not support HS2 but believe it will happen!

        • June McCarthy says:

          It would be the thin end of the wedge if ancient woodland is felled for housing.

          Either ancient woodland is precious or it isn’t, either it is worth preserving or it isn’t.

          There are many agricultural fields which could be used for housing sites, we do not need to destroy our ancient woodland. If we do give up woodland for housing, it will be the thin end of the wedge, and with an ever increasing population, there will be ever more demand for housing, which will mean woodlands will increasingly come under pressure as target sites for housing.
          If we want to preserve ancient woodland we have to protect it and maintain its status as protected land.

  32. Maureen Hart says:

    This man has shown that he does not care for the Environment,has no intentions of caring for the environment EVER!!
    Therefore he should be removed from the position he holds immediately!
    If there is no other minister that can be safely trusted with our Ancient Woodland then maybe this Government should be removed from the position that they hold also!
    Having said that just how much can we trust any future government with our Ancient Woodlands?
    This is a problem that is not going to be solved to our satisfaction in these days of bribes & backhanders.
    We cannot give up though or we risk losing all woodlands & green spaces as well as the ancient!!

  33. Roderick Leslie says:

    Owen Paterson could not have demonstrated the weaknesses in a crude approach to biodiversity offsetting better if he had set out to do it intentionally. Let’s be clear – just like with the forest sales fiasco – whatever the Government may say, this simply isn’t going to happen.

    Beyond that, this is a line in the sand for the current excuse of ignorance that seems to pervade current Government Ministers and a generalist civil service which simply doesn’t contain the technical knowledge base to do the job required of it: as head of policy for FC in England I spent a huge amount of time and effort trying to explain to bright , friendly civil servants – usually in no more than 20 minutes – things that had taken me 30 years to understand: frequently with no biological education beyond O level, this stretched anyone’s ability to understand and we have now very clearly passed breaking point – and as yet another round of extreme weather demonstrates, we don’t have the space for this sort of ignorance any more whether in the Secretary of State or his supporting staff.

    In the past I’ve opposed designation for Ancient Woodlands – I saw the complications as exceeding the benefits. I’ve change my mind and now support WT’s campaign, hope that others will join it and would suggest WT need to get on and develop proposals for legislation to present to Government.

  34. alvecotewood says:

    Reblogged this on Alvecote Wood and commented:
    A very good discussion on the potential fiasco of biodiversity offsetting. The Government consultation seemed to imply that ancient woodland would be excluded from offsetting, along with a few other habitat types, but the latest from the Secretary of State suggests that it could be included. The problem is that 100 new trees cannot replace one ancient tree, nor can 100 acres of new woodland replace 1 acre of ancient. The Woodland Trust blog clearly explains the problem.

  35. Wendy Worrall says:

    Clearly he is an idiot who is not up to the job! He obviously thinks you can recreate ancient woodland in a handful of years. He needs to go.

  36. Peter Wilding says:

    Owen Paterson has betrayed his utter ignorance of the environmental sciences with this ill-considered suggestion.

    The designation of ancient woodland is not primarily about the trees – it’s about the ecological communities of woodland animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms that have grown up over the continuously – wooded 400 years that are required for the “ancient” designation.

    If the proposition was to plant a million acres of saplings to “replace” every destroyed acre of ancient woodland, this would still be a bad deal.

    The appointment of Owen Patterson as Environment Secretary confirmed that this Government has no idea about conservation and cannot be trusted on any part of the green agenda. Roll on 2015 …

  37. Derek West says:

    So,Paterson wants to include ancient woodland in offsetting,what a suprise,this man is an
    envionmental disaster and the sooner he goes the better.

  38. chrismaude says:

    An excellent example of ‘dinner party’ policies – ill-conceived, lacking research and consultation, and just plain ignorant of the essence of nature.

  39. Moray says:

    Well this is the final straw. How this goverment ever claimed to be the “greenest government ever” is beyond me. If owners of ancient woodland had lobbied the government and gave huge donations, i suppose we would have seen a different viewpoint from them. However they have been lobbied by the big house builders and these same comapnies have donated to the incumbent government, so thats why they think that irreplaceable habitat can be off-set. Well you know who not vote for at the next election.

  40. I absolutely agree why cut down Ancient Woodland at all, it has taken many many years to develop and can never be effectively replaced in the short term, if ever.

  41. Surely this illustrates all the reasons why this government definitely is not to be trusted with environmental matters and hasn’t a hope of being the greenest government ever!

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