The Woodland Trust has long championed better protection for the irreplaceable habitat of ancient woodland. It’s one of the core aims of our public advocacy work.
Ancient woodland is one of the few remaining living links to our ecological and archaeological past. It’s the richest, most valuable land habitat for wildlife that we still have, covering only about 2% of the land area, with unique ecosystems providing a home to hundreds of rare and vulnerable species. It can never be replanted, recreated or replaced.
Our current ‘Enough is enough’ campaign reinforces the critical importance of protecting ancient woodland absolutely, with more than 450 ancient woods under threat across the UK at this very moment.
Despite resolute national campaigning over the years, ancient woodland still remains without the full protection it so desperately needs. National planning guidance, as set out in paragraph 118 of National Planning Policy Guidance (NPPF), continues to render ancient woodland a hostage to fortune by way of the ‘get out’ caveats attached to its protection wording. Natural England’s excellent Standing Advice should help, but the caveat in paragraph 118 is proving to be a real burr in ancient woodland’s side.
But maybe – just maybe – something is stirring in the dusty corridors of local authority planning policy. This year has seen the appearance of some unexpectedly helpful local policy wording.
Tucked away in Policy DM17 (Development involving Existing Green Infrastructure – Trees) of Bristol City Council’s adopted Site Allocations and Development Management Policies (July 2014) is the bald stand-alone sentence that “Development which would result in the loss of Ancient Woodland, Aged trees or Veteran trees will not be permitted”. No weasly qualification or caveat attached.
Stratford-on-Avon District Council’s proposed submission Core Strategy (June 2014) states in Policy CS.5 on Landscape that “Due to the quality of ancient semi-natural woodland and aged/veteran trees, particularly in the Forest of Arden, and their relative scarcity elsewhere in the District, no development will be permitted that would lead to their loss or damage”. Again, a stand-alone sentence with no apparent caveat.
Torridge District Council and North Devon Council have also weighed in with the statement in paragraph 12.59 of their Joint Local Plan publication draft (June 20214) that “Critical environmental assets such as ancient woodland and veteran trees cannot be relocated or replaced so must be retained and enhanced on site”.
Finally Dudley Borough’s Development Strategy preferred options (July 2014) proposes a dedicated Policy S22 specifically for Mature Trees, Woodland and Ancient Woodland to read: “Development which would adversely affect Ancient Woodland will not be permitted, and measures will be taken to restore these areas, and where appropriate, expand them with new complementary planting, particularly to encourage linked woodland areas”.
Whilst one swallow does not necessarily make a summer, when you get a flock of good policies, it’s a sign that welcome change could be coming. True, some of this new policy has yet to undergo the trauma of public examination but hope springs eternal in the undisturbed soils of ancient woodland that the wording will be duly confirmed.
Perhaps this flurry of local policy activity might now embolden other local authorities to provide their ancient woodland with the absolute protection for which the Woodland Trust, and its supporters, have campaigned for so long.
We therefore issue a challenge to all our readers – please check that your local ancient woodland sites are protected in your local council’s planning documents (Core Strategies, or Local Plans for example) too, with strong policy commitments like these! Let us know below, or contact us at email@example.com.
Justin Milward, Lead Government Affairs Officer