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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
– 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.