When you set out to fight against loss of ancient woodland, you know you are the underdog. No amount of words from a ‘greenest Government ever’ will reassure you that ancient woodland will be protected under changing planning policies. No claims that the loopholes are not a problem and the system will stop the unnecessary destruction of our most valued habitats, reassures you enough to drop the argument. You also know you are in for a long, hard, slog of a fight. Never-the-less you fight on, clinging to the glimmer of hope that some one, somewhere will see that environmental value far outweighs economic value and realise once it is gone, it is gone forever and cannot be bought or brought back.
It is with this glimmer of hope we entered into the fight to save Oaken Wood 2 years ago, alongside Kent Wildlife Trust and the local action group ‘Save Oaken Wood’. Sadly, at 11am on July 12th 2013, the Secretary of State for Community and Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, rang the death knell for Oaken Wood as we know it. He decided to set the precedent for all ancient woodland across the country and grant planning permission to destroy Oaken Wood – basically, death by quarry!
For anyone who attended the long and detailed inquiry, they will have heard claims of replanting, translocation and mitigation. You will have seen people in positions of responsibility for our natural heritage refer to rare species as ‘common’ – as if they are just not rare enough and we only do something when we are down to the last 5 or so! And apparently, these empty claims and dismissive statements are all fine – as permission is now granted.
Ultimately, new planting can link existing ancient woods, increase protection to their core by expanding them (buffering) and create resilient habitats – as long as they are not destroyed in the first place by activity such as quarrying. However, new trees and woods, such as those proposed in this case and Ok’d by the Secretary of State will never be the same as ancient woodland where ecosystems have formed and been supported in undisturbed soil over hundreds of years. Quite simply, Oaken Wood will never be as species-rich as it is today.
Mr Pickles, what have you done to the future of our landscapes? Today, you let everyone who cares for their local community environment down. So I’ll leave the final words to Sue Holden, our Chief Executive who said this when she received the news :
“This is a landmark decision, but for all the wrong reasons. This so-called ‘greenest Government ever’ stated that the new National Planning Policy Framework would give sufficient protection to irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland. It clearly does not – it seems no green space is safe.”
(and please feel free to add your final words in memory of this wood into comments)
As a little note: A huge thank you to the 6,000 plus supporters, local groups and individuals and Kent Wildlife for all the help along the way. You were amazing!