Oh dear. Once again, it’s ancient woodland protection that has a twinge of disappointment where other woodland and tree issues have won their part in the government’s response to the Independent Panel for Forests. There are indeed some great things for us to progress for woods in there. Apart from the fact that public woods are no longer seen as a quick buck, tree planting targets have appeared where no target has been before and there is a general sense of acknowledgement that woodland needs to be part of our lives and not just something visited on holidays in ‘the countryside’.
I nearly broke out my celebratory party popper when I read the response, and in black and white it said “Protection of our trees, woods and forests, especially our ancient woodland, is our top priority”.How fantastic I thought, as I eagerly scanned for how they were going to improve protection:
Climate change – Acknowledge and address its impact on our unique, wooded habitats and work to solve problems together. Tick
Tree disease – Healthy levels of investment and the right words we need to hear so we can push to achieve activity. Tick
Policy – renewing Keepers of Time for ancient woodland, including PAWS. Tick
and…and…Oh! You feel the planning process is protecting ancient woodland do you? Hmmn. CROSS!
And here’s the rub! This response totally skirts around any discussion on the threats from development, let alone proposing a national agenda to tackle it. The panel report at least recognised the loss of ancient woodland, but it only went on to recommend that Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs) and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) should review SSSI status locally, and that Local Plans should recognise ancient woodland. We were hoping the Government would go further in its response, and set a national target to increase the percentage of ancient woodland SSSIs…another ominous ommission!
And above all, there is the need to close the loop hole in planning if we are to truly protect our woods and trees ‘especially our ancient woodland’. Words of protection do not translate across Government (HS2 – a glaring example!) and this has to change as we once again hear the familiar thunk! of ancient woodland’s head bumping on the glass ceiling.
Our biggest threat to ancient woodland remains development. NPPF & Localism are not protecting woodland through their policies.
Sorry to be negative, but it’s the reason why the Woodland Trust averages 1,000 phone calls and emails a year from concerned people who seek advice from us for their threatened woods and trees. It’s why we have seen 1,000 hectares of ancient woodland threatened in the last 5 years.
Oh! And a second blow. The areas of investment will be research in mitigation and compensation….CROSS!
Ancient woodland is irreplaceable. So how is investment in this type of research not a clear message that we need to be preparing ancient woodland for accepting that development will cause it to be damaged and lost?
The impact of development is clearly lacking in this response. And yes, we will swing into action calling upon everyone to join together and become a WoodWatcher by taking part in Neighbourhood Planning, scrutinising Local Plans, and getting involved in LNPs. We have no choice, because these are the only opportunities to fight to secure a future for our ancient woods and trees. But it’s a lot harder to be solution-focused (which is what we want to be) for Government when you know the odds are stacked against you! Ultimately, the planning system just doesn’t protect in the way it should and the threats are becoming relentless.
Don’t believe me? Recently an appeal was lost to a telecomms mast and housing that will destroy ancient woodland at Reading University under the current system. Of course you can always keep your fingers crossed that Oaken Wood is saved and I am totally proven wrong later on in the year. (Please, please let me be wrong)
So it looks like ancient woodland has once again hit the glass ceiling of planning. And the resulting loss of this rare habitat will speak for itself. It’s just a pity that it will be too late for the penny to drop and once it’s gone, there is no going back.
*Keep the debate alive and catch up with more posts in our ‘Forests Report’ series: https://wtcampaigns.wordpress.com/category/forests-report-2/