The Joint Nature Conservation Committee recently asked for views on their revised guidance for designation of SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest). The Ancient Tree Forum, supported by the Woodland Trust, took the opportunity to highlight once again that wood pastures and parkland and areas of abundant veteran trees are poorly represented by SSSIs and SACs (Special Area of Conservation). It means that even sites of international importance are extremely vulnerable and owners are excluded from funding streams. The Forum says that although good guidance will help, without greater government commitment and specific resources to address the problems, there will be little change. The administrative bottleneck to SSSI and SAC/SPA designation should be addressed and stakeholders should be invited to participate more in the process.
The Forum, the Woodland Trust and the Tree Register of the British Isles have made a start to build more comprehensive information about ancient and veteran trees across the UK through the Ancient Tree Hunt to show where they are most abundant. However without government support for initiatives like this and commitment to the development of an inventory of wood pasture and parkland and other priority habitats, appropriate habitats may easily remain underrepresented. The Forum says that an even greater emphasis on seeking expert knowledge is necessary as a way of overcoming gaps in survey information.
The guidance goes as far as it can to in broadening the SSSI designation process to address the landscape scale issues highlighted in the Lawton Review. Protection and care of these core sites is vital, however it doesn’t go far enough and the Government needs to look at ways of recognising the value within the wider ecological network and how to re-create value, where it will have greatest significance, for long term sustainability of biodiversity.
Jill Butler, Conservation Adviser (Ancient Trees)