The Government recently announced new measures to the Housing White Paper, which improves the protection given to our rapidly disappearing ancient woodland.
Following pressure by groups such as the Woodland Trust, and the formation of a Government All Party Parliamentary Group for Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees, the recommendation is to toughen national policy (through clarifying Footnote 9 of the National Planning Policy Framework) to give these endangered habitats the same protection afforded to Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, National Parks, Green Belt and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Planning Advisor for the Woodland Trust, Victoria Bankes Price writes on the organisation’s blog: “For years, we have called for the wording in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to be altered so as to make it clear that any loss of ancient woodland or special trees should be ‘wholly exceptional’.
“This would give them protection comparable with heritage assets, like historic buildings, battlefields and monuments. The current wording in paragraph 118 of the NPPF leaves a serious loophole that often results in planning decisions which allow irreplaceable ancient woods to be permanently damaged or completely destroyed.
“The Government has now made it clear that it wants better protection for ancient woodland too, proposing changes to give them protection equivalent to Sites of Special Scientific Interest and designations like Green Belt. This will mean closing the loophole in paragraph 118 by getting revised wording that delivers strong, clear and effective protection.”
Presently just 2% of the UK’s land mass is classed as ancient woodland and due to the loss of most of our ancient trees, the UK has seen at least 45 rare species disappear over the past 100 years.
Chair of the APPG for Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees, Rebecca Pow MP, said: “The complex eco-systems created by ancient woodland takes thousands of years to develop, which is why it is so devastating that barely any of this remains.
“It is not just the trees themselves that we have been fighting to protect, but the soils underneath these areas of woodland. These have built up over centuries and this is something that cannot simply just be recreated. Soils containing genetic material and the means to support whole groups of species, to produce life-saving treatments or combat pests making them so important and when we lose the trees, we lose the soils.
“Ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees are as precious as the rainforest and it is a travesty that so few remain. I have long advocated for greater protection for these irreplaceable habitats and I am delighted that the Government has listened to my calls. The Woodland Trust is currently dealing with 709 threats to ancient woodland, the highest number in its history. Hopefully the proposed new measures will help bring this number down.”
With the Government putting pressure on building more homes it is imperative that this shouldn’t be at the expense of our ancient woodland. The changes in the Housing White Paper show a commitment to creating sustainable development with minimal impact on nature.
The Woodland Trust and The Ancient Tree Forum are two organisations working to protect the remaining ancient woodlands of the UK, and both have been calling for changes in policy framework for years.
Now there will be consultations on the proposals in the Housing White Paper and hopefully these good intentions become policy which offers robust protection to these trees.
The Woodland Trust’s Enough is Enough campaign is fighting to save our irreplaceable ancient woodland. Sign the petition to show your support.
Laura Briggs is a UK based reporter