Can we be the voice for our woodland heritage?

To mark International Day of Forests, our ambassador Simon King discusses the threats our ancient woodlands face and highlights what you can do to help:

S King Mgazines 003

“A new initiative will now make it possible to offset the loss of nationally important buildings by mitigating with new-builds elsewhere. Westminster Abbey will be reduced to rubble to make way for a shopping centre and replaced by a wonderful contemporary structure in Didcot. York Minster will be razed to make way for a vast car production plant, and be replaced with a fabulous new place of worship in Market Weighton. The former site of The Houses of Parliament will be demolished to allow the development of a much needed residential area in London and Parliament will be relocated to a purpose-built property in Crawley.

What’s that I hear you say? Never? We won’t allow the destruction of our national Heritage for such short-term profit making gains. Not on your watch!  And I’d be with you, if any of the above were true. But it’s not. I made it all up.

Hincheslea Wood, New Forest - Jim Champion

Hincheslea Wood, New Forest – Jim Champion

Hopefully I now have your attention. Our Fair Isle was once blessed not just with glorious man made structures of international note, but with millions of acres of ancient woodland. Humanity has nibbled away at the wildwood and by the time of the Domesday Book, only about 15 percent of the country was still wooded. Today, less than 2 percent of Britain’s land area still hosts ancient woodland. But that at least must be safe right? Wrong.

Let’s put all this into perspective. It took a little over 250 years to build the exquisite York Minster Cathedral. A wood is classed as ancient in the British Isles if it has existed continuously since 1600, ie it must be over 400 years old. Some of the oak trees that still live within the safety of their woodland sanctuary are well over 1000 years old. Some yew trees may be over 5000 years old.

But now it seems, according to some politicians and business leaders, that we can mitigate against the destruction of these unique, wildlife rich, complex ecosystems by planting new trees elsewhere. Want to build a motorway service station on the site of existing ancient woodland? No problem! Just buy a few thousand saplings and plant them on farmland a few miles away. Job done. Heck, let’s plant twice as many new trees than we cut down. That will be even better for the environment right?

You may think I am making all this up too. I am not. A vigorous lobby in Parliament today would have us believe that we can replace ancient woodland, rich marshland, heath and a host of other irreplaceable habitats, already pushed to the very margins of existence, by planting some trees elsewhere. Never mind the hundreds of years of complex relationships between living organisms that develop within these fragile landscapes. Never mind the impact on wildlife, on flooding, on the very air we breathe. Plant a few trees 20 miles away and it will all be ok. You couldn’t make it up.

What’s more, my friends at the Woodland Trust tell me that offsetting is just one of many threats to our precious ancient woodland. The Trust records ancient woods under threat from development and has a database currently numbering more than 400 that are threatened right now. A loophole in the planning system, lack of long term thinking by Government, and careless disregard for ancient woodland by developers all pose on-going threats that need to be addressed. Sadly, the battle to protect woods is being fought across the world too.

But we can all help to make a real difference – the Trust believes there are 8 simple steps the Government can take that will turn this situation around, securing much-needed changes that could save this rare and precious habitat. So please support its campaign to better protect all ancient woodland. Today, on International Day of Forests, you can give them a voice.

Of course, there are many other things you could do today too. There are thousands of beautiful woods throughout the UK that you can go and visit, such as one of my personal favourites; the New Forest. You could plant a tree, or order some free trees from the Woodland Trust to plant in your neighbourhood. Why not join a local volunteer group that looks after woods? As the clocks go forward soon, just take the time to remind yourself how special our ancient woods are.”

Simon King, Presenter & Woodland Trust Ambassador (www.simonkingwildlife.com)

Find out more about the International Day of Forests, what you can do to celebrate and read our other IDF blogs. And join our campaign to call for better protection for ancient woodland.

About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
This entry was posted in Climate Change. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Can we be the voice for our woodland heritage?

  1. jpeggytaylor says:

    What fabulous comparisons! Love it! I could imagine some great publicity stunts involving these ideas to demonstrate to a wider audience the idiocy of offsetting ancient woodland with saplings!

    • matt derrington says:

      Awww ‘] Can’t we just go for real bulldozers with the Houses Of Parliament? It would be fabulous fun, undoubtedly! And a huge step in the right direction- for the entire world. “The ‘home of democracy’ finally scraps the mock-up and unveils a proper working model using the internet- which it also brought the world, courtesy of Tim Berners-Lee”.

      In fact we ought to have a statue of the clever chap stood atop the flood defences made from the rubble of that ugly palace thing. Democracy? Palace? Hmm.

      • jpeggytaylor says:

        HA! I think you might have a good few takers for your idea! I definitely agree we could use a real working model of democracy!
        I was imagining something perhaps a little less drastic I guess … teams of people in hard hats and hi-vis vests on cordoned-off ‘construction sites’ (eg Trafalgar Square) battering down large-scale models (cardboard boxes?) of famous built heritage sites with sledgehammers … in towns and cities with their own built heritage sites (anything 400+ years old) we could use inflatable hammers to demonstrate on the real thing (castles, medieval churches/cathedrals, town walls etc) … a giant inflatable Pickles wrecking ball on a crane maybe?!

        • matt derrington says:

          That is VERY funny, jpeggytaylor ‘] Pickles finally finds his true role in life. Ahhh… Wonderful

  2. Ash says:

    A great post Simon. Would you like to stand as an MP? Independant of course, since none of the other parties seem to have clue when it comes to the environment, or many other things for that matter.

  3. Politicians, such as my local MP Amber Rudd, don’t know and don’t want to know – they follow their woefully short-sighted leaders. It’s clear they care only about what increases their hold on power and if that means destruction of ancient woodland …

  4. Michele rist says:

    I agree with Jennifer Brown. All the world can see what happens when forests are cut down. Man is greedy and evil only thinking of their personal gain. What about the future generations what will they have?

  5. Derek West says:

    Well said Simon,why are those in power so oblivious of the need to protect the natural environment,surely they are not influenced by big buisness.

  6. Peter Kyte says:

    Economic growth is the new mantra for government, what they forget is that trees are vital for producing oxygen. Money is of no use if you are unable to breathe. Try holding your breath for a minute and see what is the most important.

  7. matt derrington says:

    Fabulous ideas there, Simon. And very amusing. Such a pity you weren’t serious about the Houses Of Parliament. I would love to see that symbol of sham democracy bulldozed and used for flood defences. Esp if you could walk on top of them. At this rate they may soon start a new lease of life as a dive attraction for people of the distant future.

  8. Roderick Leslie says:

    Great Blog , Simon. I think your key point that we massively undervalue our natural as opposed to our man made environment is hugely important, and sadly very true – and as you point out there is an increasingly aggressive lobby that wants to make it worse in the name of economic growth.

    However, maybe not all is lost: there is also increasing evidence of a growing rift between the rich, urban political elite and the rest of us: the head of the Heritage Lotteries marvellous programme to revitalise our Victorian town parks told me that Lottery polling showed there was a big difference of opinion between the Trustees who were keen on London-centric, man made spending like pictures, and the wider public who were much more supportive of countryside & accessible green space.

    And, of course, that point, regardless of what the politicians would like to tell us, was reinforced by the national revolt over the plan to sell the Forestry Commission’s forests.

  9. Has every government forgotten that forests are the lungs of the world

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