In May 2013 we were alerted to a planning application that could cause the direct loss of almost four hectares of ancient woodland. If it was approved, two areas of irreplaceable ancient woodland in School Wood near Nethy Bridge would be cleared to make way for 58 houses.
Nethy Bridge is surrounded by woodland, and unsurprisingly it’s a village that prides itself on its connection to nature. School Wood is a popular place for recreation and especially wildlife watching, as it provides a home to red squirrels, pine martens and green shield moss, all endangered woodland species. The wood has been subject to many planning applications over the years and local residents and conservation charities alike are always quick to come to its defence.
We’re glad to be able to report that our objection taken alongside others such as Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, Buglife Scotland and the Ancient Tree Forum led to the refusal of the latest planning application, meaning nearly four hectares of ancient woodland is safe, barring an appeal from the developer which must be made within six months.
To defeat this particular threat we had to fight two age old arguments. Namely:
Argument 1: The application implied that the wood isn’t ancient at all and therefore it was open to be cleared for development.
This is a tricky argument to have at times as Scotland’s Ancient Woodland Inventory is provisional and the data that was used to create it means it will remain this way for the foreseeable future.
However information from local ecologists provided us with confidence that the wood should be on the Inventory and Scottish Natural Heritage’s response to the application did not dispute its status.
Argument 2: If one area of ancient woodland is lost then this is a good thing as it means the remaining area of ancient woodland will be better managed.
At no time should this argument be used as a mitigation measure for ancient woodland, which is irreplaceable habitat. It can only be deemed to be compensation and should not be viewed in a positive light.
When it came to light that the wood was most likely an area of plantation on ancient woodland (PAWS), we provided a further response continuing our objection and pointing out that the Cairngorms National Park Forest and Woodland Framework states that one of the priorities for the Park is to:
“Protect all ancient and semi-natural woodlands from further damage and fragmentation and restore them all in plantations on ancient woodland sites (PAWS);”
But we do have concerns over a decision made to only exclude part of the planned development from the local plan. While a big positive result from the committee’s decision was to remove the northern part of the site from the local plan, giving it protection from future applications, the committee convenor indicated a clear desire to see the southern part of the wood at Craigmore Road developed “as soon as possible”, ignoring its special importance.
This part of the wood has high ecological valuable, for example containing more red squirrel drays than at School Road, so any new application in this area will be fiercely opposed, It’s possible that Scotland’s new environment minister Aileen McLeod MSP, who is species champion for red squirrel, may even take an interest.
Watch This Space…
This case was managed by Katharine Rist – Campaigner, Ancient Woodland and Rory Syme – PR & Communications Officer, Scotland