As far as I was aware designating locally important habitats (by important I mean to both people and wildlife) was a method of giving some protection to vulnerable habitats that might otherwise be drowned by concrete in the relentless development of the UK. Local habitat designations such as sites of nature conservation interest (SNCI) or local nature reserve (LNR) can offer some protection for habitats which at least means the impacts of a development on that habitat are to some extent assessed before planning permission is granted.
The definition of an LNR is quite straight forward. Natural England states ‘Local Nature Reserves (LNRs) are for both people and wildlife. They offer people special opportunities to study or learn about nature or simply to enjoy it. All district and county councils have powers to acquire, declare and manage LNRs. To qualify for LNR status, a site must be of importance for wildlife, geology, education or public enjoyment.’
With this type of designation available Councils are able to reassure the local community that locally important wildlife sites are safe from development. An excellent example here is an LNR called Church Wood and Robsack Wood that was designated by Hastings Borough Council due to its value to both people and to wildlife. It is with a sigh of relief locals think that this woodland is now for them to enjoy in perpetuity.
However outline planning permission has just been granted for the open area in Church and Robsack Wood – luckily the designation of LNR has offered the woodland some protection from the planning permission. What many locals did not realise is that part of the wood had actually been left out of the original designation – not in error as you might think but actually to safeguard the development of this site. This area of ancient woodland is now potentially under threat when full planning permission is applied for.
Realising that something was not quite right here an active member of the local community set about to find out what had really happened – after a lot of skirting around the issue Hastings Borough Council said (and I quote) ‘There is indeed a strip at the southern tip of Robsack Wood which was not included in the LNR declaration. This strip is designated as ancient woodland and site of nature conservation interest (SNCI) but is not part of the local nature reserve. It is not included in the current outline planning consent area either. It appears that this strip was left out of the LNR designation to safeguard access to the proposed development area of Robsack Meadow at a time when the development area had not been designed.’
So even in the green-wash efforts of Hastings to protect a valuable urban wildlife haven they have completely overlooked the serious issues of Robsack wood becoming isolated in an urban landscape and will essentially have some new neighbours from hell.
This kind of activity is frustrating but it makes the Trust even more determined to fight for the protection of ancient woodland. However to do this we need your help! One opportunity that we think is key is the Sustainable Communities Act which gives local communities a more of a say in what their local council is doing. You can find out more here.