Planning really is exciting! – closing soon

** Campaign update! Thanks for taking action! This consultation has now closed **

The media coverage of the latest debate over the reform of the planning system through the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) is hotting up nicely, with positive input from the Woodland Trust.  As a relatively new addition to the Trust’s Public Affairs team I’ve relished the opportunity to get involved in the protection of ancient woodland, but have been dismayed by some comments implying that our campaign is undermining a bigger campaign to protect the wider countryside.

To the contrary, our campaign benefits all irreplaceable habitats.  Loopholes in environmental protection afforded by the system are at the heart of this piece of work.  The caveat we’re fighting in the NPPF isn’t just about ancient woodland, it refers to “loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats” before going on to include ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees. 

Of course we will stand up for woodland – that’s what the Woodland Trust is here for! Ancient woodland has taken hundreds of years to evolve, it is our richest habitat for wildlife and the equivalent to UK rainforest… yet today it makes up less than 2% of our land use – surely it should be given adequate protection from development. 

In terms of the wider planning issues we are working closely with other NGOs as part of the Wildlife and Countryside Link coalition; indeed in my team we have the chair of the Greenest Planning Ever coalition and vice-chair of the Planning group.  We continue to work with these partners to challenge the NPPF’s “presumption in favour of development”, and to clarify how the government defines ‘sustainable development’. 

There’s good reason why the Trust is especially challenging the caveat contained in Paragraph 169. The 4th bullet point of this paragraph relates to protection of wildlife habitats from damaging developments, and states that planning applications should not bring about the loss of these habitats ‘unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss’.  It’s this ‘unless…’ which is the problem. The wording has been lifted directly from current planning policy, but retaining the caveat with it – a caveat which has been the bane of our Woods under Threat work for years – means that protection continues to be undermined.  

If you want to help protect ancient woodland and other wildlife habitats through the planning system, please make your views known to the government – information and advice is available.

Richard Barnes, Conservation Adviser


About Kaye Brennan

Trying vegan, staying warm. Occasional bursts of words.
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Climate Change, Conservation, England, Government Affairs, Woodland creation, Woods Under Threat and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Planning really is exciting! – closing soon

  1. Lesley says:

    Thank you Richard Barnes for your further explanation. You have highlighted a problem within the legal system of the UK, a profession I have long since retired from. Any ratified European legal directive should supercede UK law, it is irrelevant if it does not, but this appears to be an opinion. The fact that NPPF guidelines will over ride any existing ‘foreign’ based legal framework is clearly a real threat some very powerful legal minds believe. Surely this issue should be tackled with the utmost urgency rather than concentrating efforts on the re wording of policy. If we see precedents set as a result of this confusion then we will be stuck in a costly and dangerous position. The point of referral material as provided by EU, Council of Europe and International Treaty, is that it must be incorporated at every level, to ignore this requires a official resignation, maybe this is indeed a future desire of the existing Government, it will not upset many of the electorate that is for certain, (although the vast majority of UK citizens have not yet been fully educated as to the system beyond home courts).

    I would also question the use of the word ”mischevious”, is such commentary from people who seek to tarnish the Woodland Trust for their own gain or purpose? How would this be possible and why would it be wanted? I am sure there are many facts floating around about the Woodland Trust position during the Forest Sell off, many of which are nothing more than pointing out the manouevres of the Trust, which require answers.

  2. Lesley says:

    Thank you for further confirmation on the stance of the WT. I am sorry you are dismayed but I feel that is valid to question the WT campaign as it is perceived by people like me. On the back of the Forests Sell Off, the WT were surely put in a position where they were stuck between a rock and a hard place, a catch 22 largely as a result of an over use of ‘social media’, as one comment I read clearly illustrates, to paraphrase; that the WT were either complicit or guilty of ambulance chasing. Even if such comments are completely false is irrelevant, social media is not media. It all comes down to perception and an allowance for all to comment and investigate, particularly as funding declines for all involved and NGOs are questioned in a much wider context a transparency and willingness to answer questions is much needed, as with this website.

    I still struggle with this issue, asides from attachment to the wildlife and countryside link, I saw little to demonstrate the stance as detailed above on regular social media and hence my comments on the previous blog.

    I still feel that the legal connection with the habitats directive is being pushed aside with too much focus on guidelines, which the NPPF is, rather than a concerted effort to tackle head on with valid opposition schemes which do not reflect a push towards real sustainable development or infrastructure to aid it, rather than a single opinion which is percieved by increasing amounts of people as blinkered.

    • Richard Barnes says:

      Hello Lesley,
      Thank you for taking the time to comment on my blog and also Victoria’s. Your insight on the immediacy and transparency of social media is important as, like many others, the Woodland Trust is still learning how to best use it. At the moment we don’t have the resources to check all the comments sections of news releases, personal blogs etc, and then compose a reply to those relating to the Trust, including those as inaccurate and mischievous as the one you mention.

      We ran an online campaign to draw attention to the shortcomings of the draft NPPF, mainly using our own website, facebook page and Twitter to galvanize action from our supporters on the thing they could influence, the wording around the loophole. We also helped compose the LINK response ( and have contributed to GreenLINK’s response ( The loophole in the draft that we oppose applies to all “irreplaceable habitats”, not just woodland, as does the blanket presumption in favour of development. Our campaign wasn’t solely about the over-riding presumption, although the loophole taken in conjunction with Paragraph 8 of the NPPF, which states ‘the framework should be read and interpreted as a whole’, significantly reduces any protection of the environment. This was made even more alarming as the NPPF states on a number of occasions that ‘economic growth is a priority’. Our campaign, as a woodland conservation charity, was about ancient woodland, which enjoys no legal protection unless it is inside a designated area, like for example a SSSI ( European legislation is not superceded by planning guidance. If ancient woodland had legal protection it wouldn’t be at the mercy of the draft NPPF!

      The Trust was established to plant, restore and protect native woodland in the UK. We have a special concern for ancient woodland, as do our supporters, so that is reflected in our own messages when we hope to galvanise their support. I think the success of this approach has been seen by: the 145,000+ signatures on the petition to prevent selling the public forests; the 4,000+ responses to the Forestry Panel’s call for views via our portal; and now the fantastic response by our supporters to the recent NPPF consultation. This is in addition to the responses generated by other charities championing their individual species/habitats. I’m really hoping this groundswell of opposition, combined with the concerted LINK-style response, will persuade the government to dramatically improve the final NPPF.

      Best wishes,

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