** 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