Knowledge is Power – how to help ancient woodlands

In my voluntary role as Councillor Tree Champion for the Woodland Trust, I work with the staff to help protect ancient woodland and to identify opportunities for tree planting.

Cllr Tony Harwood

Cllr Tony Harwood, Councillor Tree Champion

In my experience as a councillor, knowledge and vigilance is key to protecting our irreplaceable ancient woodland heritage. These are some of my suggestions on how to help save ancient woodland in your area:

–       Never rely on someone else to identify a threat to a local wood. If you are not sure what to do, please contact us for advice on

–       Don’t be afraid to stand your ground with officers, developers and Planning Inspectorate – who all may at times forget the protection afforded to ancient woodland by paragraph 118 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

–       In terms of base-line knowledge I would strongly encourage all local councils to update their Ancient Woodland Inventory, to incorporate woodlands of less than two hectares in size. This is especially important as many urban and suburban ancient woods are of this smaller size. This exercise at Maidstone resulted in the area of ancient woodland rising from 2,754 ha to 2,828 ha, a gain of 74 ha. This came as a real surprise as we knew that much ancient woodland had in fact been lost since the last inventory was completed. Though this represents a small increase of 0.19% in the Borough’s area of ancient woodland (bringing the total coverage to 7.19%), the number of parcels of ancient woodland in the revised inventory is, a remarkable, two and a half times that in the original document.

–       As regards vigilance, do keep an eye on weekly lists of new planning applications and Local Plan allocations, to identify any proposal which may result in loss or deterioration of ancient woodland, and ensure that your local authority is robust in its response to any potential threat – by imposing Tree Preservation Orders for example. High profile local campaigns and press coverage will always strengthen officer resolve. In Maidstone especially, we have had problems recently with development proposals that involve the bulldozing of access roads through ancient woodland – such fragmentation and disturbance would undoubtedly result in loss or deterioration, which is contrary to the NPPF.

–       The useful planning advice on ancient woodland provided by Natural England has just been updated, and now includes advice on wood pasture and veteran trees too.  This Standing Advice is a material consideration for planning purposes, and has strong words on the value of ancient woodland, and importantly advises when to assess the alleged benefits of a proposal in the “planning balance” required by the NPPF.

Cllr Tony Harwood has been a Maidstone Councillor for over 20 years and has been involved in successfully campaigning to save several ancient woods.

This entry was posted in Government Affairs, Protection, WoodWatch and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Knowledge is Power – how to help ancient woodlands

  1. andy white says:

    Tony, I am appalled to see you touting 118 as some kind of effective strategy for dissuading developers. They count on using it both to justify offsetting and using material argument to counter conservation efforts. We need to get rid of 118, in fact the whole NPPF should be scrapped as not fit for purpose. I despair to see a WT representative gaily singing its praises.What part of the following don’t you get?

    “an exception should only be made where the benefits of the development… clearly outweigh the impacts that it is likely to have …..”

    This line is a free lunch to all and every slime bag in the trade who can offer up some cock and bull reason why ancient woodland is worth less than a road or a railway or some blasted quarry.

    • Tony Harwood says:

      Thanks Andy,

      No Paragraph 118 is no panacea, and as mentioned here in Maidstone we know that only too well after the shameful decision of the SoS for Communities and Local Government over Oaken Wood, Barming.

      The problem is its all we’ve got, and it has changed developers and planners attitudes to ancient woodland.

      Of course I would like to see absolute protection for ancient woodland, but the influence of the landowning and development lobbies in this country makes stronger legislation extremely unlikely under our current political system.


      • andy white says:

        I would like to see WT publicly reject the NPPF. Until you do so why would the government replace it? Your phraseology at the intro of this piece is tantamount to condoning it and even if you don’t mean to do so , that is how it will be experienced in Whitehall.

        • Victoria Bankes Price says:

          Hi Andy, many thanks for your comments, campaigning to improve the NPPF is central to the work of the Trust. We have recently submitted evidence to the Department of Communities and Local Government Select Committee Inquiry on the functioning of the NPPF. It is also one of the key strands of our Enough is Enough campaign:
          Our primary concern is of course the weakness of paragraph 118, whilst it does indeed provide some protection, as Tony points out it is not strong enough for an irreplaceable habitat. The context in which this paragraph sits is also key, as the NPPF is very pro-growth in its stance compared to its predecessor PPS9. As well as campaigning on this matter we are constantly lobbying government on the short comings of the NPPF. The NPPF is useful in that it makes planning more accessible and transparent compared to the previous plethora of policies, however please do be assured that we do in no way condone its position on ancient woodland and we will continue to fight this very dangerous loop hole. Victoria Bankes Price, Planning Advisor

    • PETER GILES says:

      Andy, good to sense your passion but what is your approach to the relentless rolling out of building developments across this green and pleasant land? Mine is increasingly..wave the white flag and head for the hills. Peter

      • andy white says:

        Mine is to insist as loudly as possible that the NPPF is not only inadequate but a sop to Cerberus, clever government PR that, far from being designed to protect, is actually a carefully crafted free lunch for developers. We’re being fobbed off as fools. If I was running the WT my response to the NPPF would have been immediate and unconditional rejection of the entire thing, not on the grounds that it is flawed by para 118, but that it is para 118. The whole thing is a legitimation of greed and big business dressed up as progress.. The document is akin to a 300 page job description to guard the henhouse with a tiny clause somewhere at the back saying that no fox may apply for the post unless they are hungry or have cubs to feed. Head for the hills? They are next on the list…

  2. peteratwressle says:

    Thanks for the practical information – very useful for anyone who likes to keep their eye on what’s happening to our ancient woodland.

  3. Peter Kyte says:

    It is a time reminder that we all need to be vigilant of new development proposals in our locality and take action if ancient woodland is threatened.

  4. PETER GILES says:

    Dear councillor,
    is there any level of protection in statute which protects areas (which may have become ancient woodland) from development?

    • Tony Harwood says:

      Hello Peter,

      The National Planning Policy Framework states at paragraph 118:

      118. When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should aim to conserve and enhance biodiversity by applying the following

      ●● planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the
      loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland
      and the loss of aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland,
      unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location
      clearly outweigh the loss.

      Sadly, the provisions of the NPPF will not always protect our irreplaceable wildwood heritage as we recently discovered locally at beautiful Oaken Wood, which is being destroyed to make way for a rag-stone quarry.

  5. daphnepleace says:

    Reblogged this on daphnegonewild and commented:
    Three cheers (or should that be ‘tree cheers’?) for the champions of ancient trees.

  6. indra says:

    Crucial infomation….thank you. I have always kept an eye on new planning apps taped to phone poles and gone along to consultations… we cant let them get away with greedy distruction!

  7. sherwoodforestcommunityvision says:

    Reblogged this on Sherwoodforestcommunityvision’s Blog and commented:
    Thanks ellie.

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