Councils flout ancient woodland protections, campaigners say


One year on from strengthened protection for ancient woodland in England, local planners are still 'failing to safeguard' the habitat, the Woodland Trust has claimed. 

The number of ancient woods in England still under threat from live planning applications currently stands at 441, with councils accused of undermining the Government's guidance by waving through developments that do not pass the 'wholly exceptional' threshold.


This figure represents a drop of 25% on last year, suggesting the new protections have been effective in some areas, although some councils are either unaware or ignoring them, according to campaigners.

Changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) gave ancient woodland and trees the same protection as the finest listed buildings.

The NPPF wording stipulates that developments resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees 'should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists'.

However, developments such as caravan parks or chicken and dairy farms have been approved over the last year resulting in loss or damage to ancient woodland.

Woodland Trust director of conservation, Abi Bunker said: 'It is heartbreaking to see that one year on from the groundbreaking changes to the NPPF, there are still too many councils and developers across England that are not implementing the level of protection it affords to ancient woods and trees.

'Some local authorities are doing this really well and should be applauded, but we need all planning authorities and developers to fully implement the changes and secure our remaining ancient trees and woodlands for future generations.'

The Woodland Trust has written to all heads of planning in local authorities across England. 

South East: The region most heavily affected by applications to develop on or next to ancient woodland has suffered a mixture of 18 direct losses and indirect impacts due to housing and highways projects as well as an extension to a hotel and spa in Ansteadbrook, Surrey. One disturbing example was the approval of a planning application to build a tea room within ancient woodland in Chinnor, south Oxfordshire.

East Midlands: There have been three ancient woodlands in the East Midlands adversely affected by highways and housing projects including for an application for an access track upgrade in Matlock, Derbyshire.

West Midlands: In Burton-on-Trent an application for the development of a dairy farm in the middle of several areas of ancient woodland surrounding the site was approved, which will result in long-term impact to the woodland from ammonia pollution.

North West: There have been four ancient woodlands damaged or lost including to a caravan park in Carnforth, Lancashire, and a car park at Manchester Airport.

Yorkshire and The Humber: There have been four indirect losses including an extension to a zoo in Doncaster and a forest school structure in Sheffield.

London: There has been one direct loss of a veteran tree in London, following the approval of a housing development, where a veteran mulberry tree was translocated to Tower Hamlets.


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