Housing White Paper paves the way for better ancient woodland protection

Posted On: 
7th February 2017

Today's housing White Paper has proposed amendments to the National Planning Policy Framework which will see 'ancient woodland and aged and veteran trees' given stronger designation, alongside the likes of National Parks, AONBs, SSSIs and Green Belt land.

Beccy Speight Woodland Trust chief executive, said: “It is a positive step that today’s White Paper recognises the need to strengthen national policy to better protect ancient woodland and aged or veteran trees. Planners would have to recognise them as being as valuable as SSSIs, National Parks and Green Belt land, meaning development which impacts on them should be more definitively restricted. 

“Crucially we believe it gives much greater clarity to the place of ancient woodland and veteran trees in the planning process, which benefits all involved. This is the result of years of lobbying, with support from our members, allies in parliament, NGOs and the public.

“If these proposals are properly implemented we would expect to see the 709 ancient woods currently under threat reduce in number, without hampering progress to meet the huge need for house building highlighted today.

“During the 12 week consultation window we will be pressing for full adoption of this welcome set of proposals and we urge the public to tell Government why these habitats are so valuable to them.”

A survey carried out by the Trust has also found that more than two thirds of planners are not using official guidance known as ‘Standing Advice’ which is the most important tool advising them of the value of ancient woods and trees when considering development proposals. 

The charity also asked planners whether they were aware of two key tools which can help establish whether an application will impact ancient woods or special trees.

The Ancient Woodland Inventory, which identifies areas of woodland which are hundreds of years old, is used by just 15% of the 500 respondents. And the charity’s own Ancient Tree Inventory, which records the location of significant trees, is used by only 8%.

Beccy Speight continued: “Because of the current lack of adequate policy protection, planners play a hugely important role in ensuring our irreplaceable ancient woods and cherished individual trees are safeguarded. 

“The survey has confirmed some worrying anecdotal evidence gathered by the Trust over several years.  It is crucial, while under incredible pressure to speed up the delivery of the government’s housing and growth aspirations, that planners have access to the best possible advice and guidance so they can make swift but sound decisions for our natural heritage.” 

Almost three quarters of responses also revealed a lack of understanding of the significance of areas known as Planted Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS). These areas of damaged ancient woodland, which can often be successfully restored, make up around half of the UK’s remaining ancient woodland habitat. 

The Trust will launch a report based on the survey’s findings and further research at the 2017 Local Government Association conference.  Members of the public can also add their voice to the charity’s efforts to improve protection for ancient woods and trees by supporting its ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign.