Ancient woodland is our richest land-based wildlife habitat, as well as one of the most important cultural links to our past, and once lost, cannot be replaced. That’s why we’re calling on the Prime Minister to deliver better protection for England’s remaining ancient woodland, and one way he can do this is to deliver on the government’s promise to significantly increase the amount of ancient woodland designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Nearly a year after my post calling for better protection of ancient woodland, Owen Paterson has stated that the current level of protection is adequate, but sadly our experience is quite contradictory. The Independent Panel on Forestry (IPF) noted “We are losing ancient woodland in England” and we currently have 443 cases of ancient woodland threatened by development. Our experience has shown that it is only the “statutory designations” (SSSI, Special Protection Area (SPA), Special Area for Conservation (SAC), Ramsar sites) that give substantial protection from development pressure, and also from inappropriate and damaging management.
Lord Taylor of Holbeach (then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, DEFRA) said in March 2012:
“Compared to other wildlife habitats, ancient woodlands are under-represented in the sites of special scientific interest (SSSI) series…. Work to identify which undesignated woodlands have potential to become SSSIs for their wildlife features is underway and being led by Natural England, in line with its statutory duty. It is likely that this work will result in more ancient woodlands being protected through designation as SSSI over the next few years.”
However, the IPF also noted in July 2012 that “SSSI protection only applies to 15% of our ancient woodlands, and as a habitat it is under represented compared to others… The current internal review of SSSI designations by Natural England may improve this, but in the meantime some of our most precious woodlands remain vulnerable.” Natural England monitor how much “priority habitat” is covered by SSSI designation (see Table 2a.4), and wood pasture and deciduous woodland are amongst those with the lowest proportion designated (12% each).
Natural England should have a clear target to significantly increase the proportion of ancient woodland under SSSI designation, and a set timescale in which to achieve it. Natural England already hold and review the Ancient Woodland Inventory, and have added new sites to this where we or others have provided the evidence. Increasing the proportion of recorded ancient woodland in SSSI status is affordable, though it may take some re-prioritisation of work.
We want to see better protection for all of our ancient woodland, not just the top tier SSSIs. The current reality is that we’re stuck with two tiers at the moment (possibly three if you include Local Wildlife Sites), so let’s press the government to deliver on their promise to put more in the top tier whilst still pursuing better protection for the ancient woodland remaining in the other categories.
In the next post in this series, Sian and Katharine will discuss how completing and extending the Ancient Woodland Inventory can also improve protection for ancient woodland.
You can help us keep up the pressure by sending your message to the Prime Minister now.