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Welcoming Greater Protection for Ancient Woodland

Woodlands are a walker’s friend. They offer shade from the sun, shelter from the rain, carpets of bluebells in the spring, a kaleidoscope of colour in the autumn and even chance to challenge the kids with some tree climbing. Aside from this self-centred view, they are an irreplaceable environmental resource and so it is great news that Planning Policy has just been strengthened to ensure they receive more protection. Find out how these changes will help us all, both now and in the future…

 

woodpolicy giant oakUntil this summer, ancient woodlands and veteran trees were treated in planning law as ‘replicable habitats’ meaning that the law (and some annoying loopholes) allowed developers to destroy one woodland and simply plant young trees elsewhere to compensate. Anyone that has spent time in a true ancient woodland will know this is simply false logic. Ancient woodlands are nature’s equivalent of ancient cities, with complex infrastructure and populations of trees, plants, fungus and wildlife that have taken centuries to develop. Some individual ancient trees can be several hundreds of years old and sustain their own mini-city, so suggesting that a sapling could provide an equivalent replacement seemed misplaced to say the least. 

At the end of July 2018, the Government published a revised National Planning Policy Framework. This now gives both ancient woodland and individual ancient and veteran trees the protection they deserve, putting them on the same footing as World Heritage Sites and scheduled monuments. The new framework states that only ‘wholly exceptional’ development will be permitted in ancient woodland or affecting ancient trees. This is fantastic news and something that campaigners, including The Woodland Trust, have been battling long and hard to achieve.

wood policy oak trunkYou may be wondering what would constitute ‘wholly exceptional development’, the types of development that would justify damaging ancient trees and woodland from now on. The answer is fairly straightforward. This won’t cover any ongoing developments in local neighbourhoods like house building (which will need to protect ancient woodlands and trees), but will only cover major infrastructure schemes such as new road or rail building, where ‘the public benefit would clearly outweigh the loss or deterioration of habitat’. That means ancient woodlands are not entirely out of the woods (excuse the pun – I couldn’t resist!), but they now at least will benefit from the protection already given to manmade heritage sites like Stonehenge and the Tower of London.

Why not celebrate with a woodland walk soon, check out the iFootpath Woodland Walks for some inspiration…

 

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