The conservation charity published its findings this morning, which show that 1,064 ancient woodlands in the UK are at risk of damage or destruction from development - the highest number since the trust started collecting data in 1999. However, this figure may just be the “tip of the iceberg”, said a spokeswoman for the trust.
Ancient woods are defined as areas of woodland that have persisted since 1600 in England and Wales and 1750 in Scotland.
According to paragraph 175 of the government’s updated National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), ancient woodlands are considered to be irreplaceable habitat and as such, “should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists". But the Woodland Trust maintains that there is a “continued lack of awareness” among local authorities and developers of changes to the NPPF, which give ancient woodland the same protections as listed buildings under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
Town and Country Planning Act 1990
03 Mar 2016
Since 1999, 800 ancient woods have suffered loss or damage from development, according to the trust.
Currently, the largest threat to ancient woodlands comes from site allocations (263 woodlands) made as part of a council’s local plan – a strategy document that outlines future development in the area – followed by housing (175), utilities (148), railways (112), roads (91), agriculture (78) and leisure or sport planning applications (49).
Other threats include excess nutrient depositions of nitrogen and phosphates from nearby poultry farms and an “alarming growth in threats of tree disease from imported plants and wood”, the trust said.
The biggest single development project threatening ancient woods is High Speed Rail Two (HS2), where at least 108 ancient woodlands will be lost or damaged by the project in its current form, according to the trust.
The trust’s director of conservation and external affairs Abi Bunker described the figures as a depressing read. “What’s even more depressing is these are only the cases we know about. There could be many more woods under threat,” she said.
Last month, the charity wrote 46 letters of objection for different planning applications where ancient woodland was at risk of damage or destruction in the UK, including three areas of ancient woodland in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, which will be lost should the controversial 2,500-home Europark development be rubber-stamped.
Since 1999, the trust says it has saved 1,101 ancient woods, which received a stay of execution after it objected to development.