Ever decreasing circles… the Government appear ignorant of their failure to protect our ancient woods

Our recently launched campaign urges Government to increase protection for our irreplaceable ancient woodland. It is aimed at David Cameron and identifies eight low or no cost measures that could quickly be put in place to set this in motion. We are not asking for something that the Government are opposed to, we are simply asking them to deliver the goods on their own stated policy positions.

The eight key asks include these two:

  • Government (Defra) to complete and extend the Natural England Ancient Woodland Inventory
  • Government (Defra) to address the information gap, as there is currently no central database and no recent analysis of the amount of ancient woodland being lost year on year

The whole issue of destruction of our ancient woods was catapulted into the public spotlight again recently through the controversy sparked by media reports that Owen Paterson (Secretary of State for the Environment) appeared content to see ancient woodland felled and built on as long as some new trees were planted somewhere else!

This issue was picked up again last week by the BBC, highlighting how the gradual whittling away of our finite and irreplaceable ancient woodlands remained ignored and unaccounted for in statistics put out by the Forestry Commission implying that having lots more woodland overall (much of it comprising plantations created in the 20th century) means everything is OK. The piece included the proposition that, if asked, the Government would be unable to tell us how much ancient woodland has been damaged or destroyed by development in the last 10 years.

Now, seeing democracy and accountability in action can be a beautiful sight. Within hours of the piece going live on the BBC, a Parliamentary Question on ancient woodland had been tabled by Caroline Lucas (MP for Brighton and Hove) including a request to know “how many hectares of ancient woodland have been damaged or destroyed in the last 10 years”.

Yesterday, in Defra Minister Dan Rogerson’s response, it appears that efforts continue to dodge the key issue. He states:

Natural England’s Ancient Woodland Inventory records the distribution of ancient woodland. Its records show that there are 364,308 ha of ancient woodland in England. The inventory splits ancient woodlands into two distinct types: ancient semi-natural woodland and plantations on ancient woodland sites. These are:

Total number of distinct ancient woodland areas-34,669

Total number over 2ha in size-22,247

Total number of 2ha and less in size-12,422.

The information on damaged and destroyed ancient woodland is not available and to attempt to gather this data would incur a disproportionate cost for the Department. However, the Woodland Trust estimates that, since 1998, 275 ha of ancient woodland has been lost to development. Figures suggest that less than 0.25% of ancient woodland has been built on since 1998.

We know that Natural England hold an Ancient Woodland Inventory – but clearly it is not kept up to date, indeed it appears not to have been fully updated in the last ten years at least. But it is his final paragraph that is the most telling here. It once again reveals the inconsistency at the centre of the Government’s position. On the one hand they state that ancient woodland is important, and appear to believe that it is somehow already enjoying protection from destruction. Yet, on the other, they remain completely unable or perhaps unwilling to answer basic questions about how much survives and what is being lost, year on year.

Dan Rogerson is quoting data supplied by the Woodland Trust. Perhaps this is an attempt to deflect his critics, or to suggest that he and his Department have some idea what is going on. However, they are completely in the dark on this one. The figures he quotes are merely the tip of much larger and still unquantified iceberg. The figures are based only on the limited data and information compiled by the Woodland Trust – from only the cases that we are aware of, that communities have reported to us, or that we ourselves have challenged through the planning system. There has been no effort to ask planning authorities to report their figures to the Government, nor to undertake the much needed updating of the Ancient Woodland Inventory.

We have supplied our figures directly to Natural England (and hence to Defra) in the recent past, complete with the caveat that the data should only be viewed as a very small part of what is going on and cannot be relied upon to indicate or estimate the total scale of the problem. So it is disappointing to see our own figures quoted back at us – when we know full well that this is only a small proportion of the much bigger scale of losses under way. What Mr Rogerson seems to be saying is that it would be possible for Government to gather the data, but they are not prepared to do it as it would cost too much – how can you protect what you don’t measure?

What we do know is that some local detailed revisions of the Ancient Woodland Inventory have thrown up clear figures about the likely scale of real losses. For example Ancient Woodland revisions in Wealden District in East Sussex confirmed at least 250 hectares ancient woodland were lost in the past 20 years in this district alone. In Ashford Borough ancient woodland loss was shown to be at least 100 ha. With losses like these, a true estimate of the scale of ancient woodland destruction in recent times could run to thousands of hectares since the original National Ancient Woodland Inventories were produced. Having our own figures quoted back at us by the Minister just underlines the need to press on with our campaign.

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, Conservation, Defra, Planning, Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS), Protection, Woods Under Threat and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Ever decreasing circles… the Government appear ignorant of their failure to protect our ancient woods

  1. Pingback: Ever decreasing circles… the Government appear ignorant of their failure to protect our ancient woods – test

  2. Pingback: Ever decreasing circles… the Government appear ignorant of their failure to protect our ancient woods | Sutton Nature

  3. Roderick Leslie says:

    Austin, on the specific issue of AW SSSIs, the boundaries of many SSSIs in FC AW and, I suspect others like the National Trust, were drawn at the time at the line that coniferisation had reached – so in the same wood, half might be SSSI, the other half not, the difference that one half had been replanted with conifers. Now, many of these woods have had the conifers removed and, against all the odds, the ancient woodland is re-asserting itself to the extent that it is hard to tell it was ever planted with conifer. There can really be no argument against extending the SSSI to the whole wood -and – by the way – the FC is probably the only non-conservation land manager to have ever lobbied FOR its land to be made SSSI ! – one of the first cases being Castle Hill in the North yorks Moors, which I lobbied George Peterken to make into and SSSI in the early 1980s – and he did !

  4. David Hunter says:

    Why not petition HMG to transfer the running of the AWI to the Woodland Trust? It appears the WT has to provide the answers regarding the ongoing destruction of AW anyway. DEFRA could grant aid the WT to do the job properly. After all the WT are the experts in AW.

  5. Ash says:

    HAVE YOUR SAY AT THE NEXT ELECTION! VOTE ONLY FOR A PARTY THAT HAS CARE & LOVE FOR THE PLANET! This planet is after all the only spaceship around!

  6. sue thorne says:

    Totally agree with all comments in the blog and replies so far posted. This and any other elected government in the future are not interested in saving Ancient Woodlands. Yes Owen Patterson is the worst Environment Minister I can ever remember and David so called Greenest Government ever – money no object when it comes to protecting the Somerset Levels Cameron one of the worst PM’s when it comes to environmental issues. It has been raised many times in recent weeks we should be planting even more trees to soak up excess water, especially in my corner of Somerset and certainly AW trees are going to use up far more water than saplings which are also more prone to destruction by vandals. I could go on and on but get so angry at such short sightedness of governments.


    I really despair of getting through to Government (David Cameron) on these issues. The Greenest Government ever? I don’t think so.

    • matt derrington says:

      Sorry Jennifer- I’ve just got to stop coughing after Andy made me laugh out loud with his brilliant forecast of the future, the way things are going at the moment.

      Erm- you say “Government (David Cameron)”. Umm. Do you honestly think Davey Boy is running the country?

      Bizarrer and bizarrer

  8. andy white says:

    When all but the last great oak is felled they’ll put a security fence around it and make a big speach about how the previous government screwed up the environment and then, with heartfelt tears proclaim national ‘oak day’ and give grants to university phd programmes to support any thesis with the word tree or oak in it.Then they’ll pat themselves on the back in congratulatory fashion for all the hard work they’ve done to preserve nature and go happily home to their warm beds and cold wives.

  9. suttonnature says:

    Reblogged this on Sutton Nature and commented:
    Yet more faffing and lack of interest by Her Majesty’s Government on just one aspect of UK nature and wildlife! #greenestgovernmenteverLOL

  10. Rwthless says:

    More bovine excreta. How do they suppose that new plantations will help to drain flooded areas, when the most amount of surplus water is soaked up by large ancient trees in upland areas? Owen Paterson really must be the worst Minister of the Environment as they have only had one decent one in the past 20 years, and that was Hilary Benn. The others have been lacklustre, but he is conspicuously bad. Whether or not it is in his interest to do so, he has been voting and working to destroy ancient woodland. If he just read his emails, he might have a better idea of what is and is not ancient woodland.

    Here in Somerset many ancient woodlands are fairly safe as they are in private hands, if you can count the Crown Estates and the National Trust as private. This is a good thing on the whole. What is more, you can’t really do anything else with the land.

  11. Derek West says:

    Getting the truth from goverment ministers is not a task for the faint hearted,Why would they give the true account of ancient woodland loss?,when such information would cause outrage.I must praise Caroline Lucas,she really is a gem amongst the excreta.

  12. Peter Kyte says:

    Regardless of who is in power, they all beat the same drum about how many houses/hospitals/roads etc they have built while in government. None care care about the natural environment and are quite content to see the human population go sailing past 70 million, regardless as to whether such growth is sustainable or not.

    • matt derrington says:

      What, Peter?! A human population go sailing past 70 million? What a bizarre idea.

      At the risk of sounding like a deranged ‘illuminati’ psychopath- 70 million large mammals, all with masses of nest materials and consuming vast amounts of food- a lot of it thrown away uneaten… Shall I stop?

      Actually where I’d like that population growth to stop, is precisely with the University of Bristol students currently keeping me awake at 3.05 a.m. There’s a few lovely large trees around here that haven’t yet been allowed to be bulldozed for more student rabbit hutches. I’d really like to see those poor old trees fertilised properly. I’m sure there’s a perfect plan there somewhere…

      Damn it! There I go again. I HATE the ‘illuminati’. I am not an ‘illuminati’… I must not say ‘illuminati’ things… I must not ssss… (beats counting sheep)

  13. matt derrington says:

    I think this all makes it perfectly clear what should have been way clear enough a long time ago. How do expect a bunch of unashamed capitalist proponents to feel about things as tiresome and inconvenient as so called ‘special trees’. Of course they’re all right if they happen to add a feature in one’s own large back garden in a 2nd home paid for by tax payers. Getting in the way of ‘acquaintances’ trying to make a decent killing by building another desperately needed 10th supermarket for a small town, is obviously totally unforgivable though.

    Let’s be realistic. I mean no sarcasm there. Let’s get rid of ruddy politicians. Esp capitalist lackeys.

  14. biod49 says:

    Reblogged this on Force10.

Sorry, comments are closed as we have moved to a new site: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blogs/woodland-trust/

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