Ancient Woodland Protection – Making a bad situation worse…

Our ancient woodlands have scant protection from development – whether it’s roads, quarries, housing or major infrastructure. We are losing ancient woods year-on-year. We know this because we are contacted by individuals and communities up and down the country, many of whom are amazed at the lack of protection for their cherished local landscapes.

The recent media coverage on biodiversity offsetting, reporting on comments by the Secretary of State for the Environment, has once again put this issue before the wider public. The outcry in response to these reports has been enormous. Which is why we have launched a campaign to channel those concerns right to the top – asking the Prime Minister to rectify the Government’s failure to protect our ancient woods.

Oaken Wood Quarrying

Quarrying at Oaken Wood

Thanks to almost  20,000 messages landing in the PM’s inbox in around 20 days, I think we have got his attention! Now, it is nice to get a letter from the Secretary of State for the Environment, especially if you haven’t written to him first! And just such a letter recently arrived at the Woodland Trust – it was clearly triggered by the issue of ancient woodland getting onto No.10’s radar. It’s an attempt to try and take some of the heat out of our campaign – a campaign sparked mainly by media reports of the Secretary of State’s own words.

Unfortunately, the letter serves only to ring further alarm bells, offering the supposed reassurance that “there are no plans to change the current protections for ancient woodland”.

The Secretary of State is clearly under the mistaken impression that ancient woodland is already well protected. He is in good company; with the author of the lead article in The Times of 4th January assuming that there is currently some kind of ‘moratorium’ preventing development on ancient woodland. In fact, most people are really surprised when they hear that hundreds of ancient woods are currently at risk of damage or destruction from development across the country right now – 78 are at risk along the route of the proposed High Speed 2 railway alone. Planning consents continue to be granted approving the destruction of ancient woodland, with one case (which we opposed and took to a public inquiry) resulting in the loss of over 30 hectares (75 acres) of ancient woodland to quarrying.

But the campaign is just getting started!

We know what needs to be done to safeguard our ancient woods; exclude ancient woodland from biodiversity offsetting schemes; designate more ancient woods as Sites of Special Scientific Interest; review & extend the Ancient Woodland Inventory; deliver Natural England’s overdue revision of Standing Guidance on ancient woodland and planning; monitor and report annual woodland destruction and loss; review the failings of the National Planning Policy Framework and the impact that statutory consultees have on planning decisions; and deliver new voluntary legal mechanisms to protect important habitats.

The biodiversity offsetting debate has simply thrown the spotlight back on to a whole series of wider unresolved issues leading to the continued erosion of our irreplaceable ancient woods. The Government itself appears to have no reliable information about the scale and rate of loss of ancient woodland in recent years.

Over the coming weeks we will be posting a series of blogs that will explain how the protection for ancient woodland can be improved, and what the Government can do to deliver these improvements – in some cases by simply living up to promises it has already made!

You can add your voice to the call to Government to deliver better protection for our ancient woodland now.

Austin Brady, Director of Conservation


About Austin Brady

Director of Conservation (UK) at the Woodland Trust
This entry was posted in Austin's blog, Campaigning, Climate Change, Conservation, Defra, Local Government, Planning, Roads, woods, Woods Under Threat and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Ancient Woodland Protection – Making a bad situation worse…

  1. Paul Beevers says:

    I agree with the sentiments expressed above, we need proper national protected designation for ancient woodland. The government refuses to deliver through a mixture I believe, of arrogance and ignorance, and the Woodland Trust is again being feeble. The Government is quite happy to chop down ancient woodland but try suggesting we should flatten the Houses of Parliament or a large country house and see what happens! On the subject of reconnecting and buffering woodlands I have just lost a case where I represented our local and impacted conservation group. That case exemplifies many of the issues. It is quite evident from Oaken Wood and my own experience appearing at the Kennel Farm Planning Appeal at Basingstoke that Planning Inspectors do not understand biodiversity issues or what the NPPF says. In fairness to Inspectors they are Town Planners and have no understanding of biodiversity issues but the DCLG/DEFRA it would seem has done nothing to improve the knowledge of those Inspectors. In the case of Basingstoke we have no Local Plan and will not have for months, perhaps years, that has given the Planning Inspector the opportunity to ignore the issues raised by the development and simply say that without a Local Plan the requirement for housing, and the numbers proposed by the developer, takes precedence – irrespective of the damage that inflicts. I do not believe the NPPF allows Inspectors to ignore biodiversity issues while prioritising housing but that is what the Inspector did. In our case that meant inadequate buffers and further undermining of a worthwhile ecological woodland network some 2.5 kilometres in length. Another striking aspect to the Kennel Farm case was that we were asked for evidence for our argument for 50 metre buffers but the developer was not for their 20 – 25 metre buffer. Belatedly I realised that the developer was not asked to provide evidence that a 20 metre buffer works either as a buffer or to secure an environmental network and they provided absolutely no evidence in their submission which was provided by an environmental consultancy. Another issue that arose was the need to protect an environmental network with some control over public access. The proposal was light touch management not total exclusion. Not only was the Local Authority opposed to that but so was the Inspector. What is the point of an ecological network if all the worst aspects of public access undermine it.

  2. Roderick Leslie says:

    Austin, I think it is time for designation. All the things you’ve said are fine – but we need a clear line in the sand, not the sort of bureacratic morass Government so loves because only the insiders can understand it. It is time to take the view that AW – and PAWS – should only be lost wher ethre really is no alternative – for example (and this assumes the development is supported in its other respects, which for many HS2 isn’t) where the line of a road or similar makes it difficult to avoid damage to an ancient wood. With 70% of our space covered by farmland, much of it intensively managed with little biodiversity value it makes no sense to attack the tiny and richest remnant of our natural world. And it is worth remembering that whilst it’s conifers that always get the flac there is a large, large area of lost and forgotten AW under those fields as significant areas were destroyed for agriculture between 1945 and 1982.

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  4. matt derrington says:

    You must be joking. I’m not putting my name to such a mealy mouthed, defeatist load of pap. Yet again I’m appalled that the so-called champions of ancient woodland aren’t taking the necessary strong stand.

    There is only 1 way to save this rarest, most valuable terrestrial habitat type- a complete ban on it’s destruction. There is simply no excuse with today’s technology at our disposal to destroy a single further acre. A failure to stick to a complete ban points only to a failure of human will. If we can’t manage this, what are WE worth?

    • Andy White says:

      Hear hear. well spoken Matt. There has to be a total ban on the felling of ancient woodland. No more ‘only if there is a good reason’ claptrap. I believe that the only way to instill this in people’s minds is to stop thinking of AW in terms of offsetting or comparable worth. Ancient woods are priceless and we need to regard them as Nature’s Crown Jewels with corresponding protection. If we fail to do this we too will perish. We forget that we are not separate from Nature and what we do to the natural world we do to ourselves.

      • matt derrington says:

        To be honest Andy, I’m already wishing I’d included, “and while we’re getting things straight, how about a compulsory purchase scheme for comparatively worthless, and certainly ubiquitous, artificial rye grass fields that border any Ancient Woodland? These could be bought by a RESPONSIBLE government at top market value, planted with native grown saplings and left to grow as an immediate buffer zone to protect the Ancient Woodland, and eventually to let it recover a little. This might go some genuine way to making up for the dozens and dozens of recognised Ancient Woodlands, that were nevertheless allowed to be destroyed- nearly always for unnecessary and superficial reasons. There would only need to be a small new department of the forestry commissions to oversee these areas, called Wildwood England/Wales/Scotland/Ulster”.

        If I can think that up overnight, there isn’t really any excuse, is there?

        • matt derrington says:

          And here’s last night’s idea. As the 3rd part of this new deal for Ancient Woodland, there could be a, perhaps voluntary, scheme for any custodian of land wishing to sell rye grass fields that lie between 2 nearby Ancient Woods. The aim would be to slowly but surely join up Ancient Woodland to give more meaningful bio resilience and eventually a landscape that was a fairer and more sensible balance between farmed and wild. And it would also look so much better. Ribbons of beautiful wildwood, with large glade-like swathes in between for farming. Food for the soul.

          And for the naysayers, worry not- under the voluntary version of the scheme it would be unlikely to happen at a rate so fast that sheep manicured Britain suffered an identity crisis! It might give us at least 1 leg to hop on should the Universe come knocking and asking us what on Earth we think we’ve been doing.

          We have to stop thinking of ‘reasons’ why things can’t be done, and instead concentrate on the fact that we can potentially do almost anything if we want to enough.

          • Andy White says:

            Asolutely right and a brilliant set of ideas. I wonder if EU grants could be set up for such a scheme, tax relief for land owners etc. i think that there are some buffering schemes in place promoted by WT but this would certainly ratchet up the sense of urgency and need. What say you WT?

  5. June McCarthy says:

    I think that it is to our shame, especially when even once common wildlife is becoming endangered, that we give absolutely no thought whatsoever to many wild creatures which can be sheltering or finding food on a site before its development. Think for much wildlife is lost, dies or is displaced and stressed, when a large oak is felled, or all or part of an ancient wood is destroyed.

    I live in a town where in recent years many trees have been felled , many gardens paved over, garden hedges replaced with hard fencing, where ongoing development has left few wild spaces. The Conservation Officer, no less, wants as part of his management plan to fell some of the trees to open up the view from the top of a small hill! The trees growing on it are self seeded in the main, as the land has been left to Nature for over 30 years. Look out wildlife, look out fauna, the Conservation officer wants to impose a management plan on the flora which provides you with food and shelter, when there is so little refuge left for you in our built up town which becomes ever more sterile as more buildings are imposed. Any measures taken to truly conserve our environmnet ans wildlife are to be embraced.

  6. Derek West says:

    We must keep up the pressure to protect nature,this goverment will not listen unless they are made to.

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