Chris Packham brands Government road plans “totally unacceptable”

Posted On: 
11th October 2017

Plans to trash ancient dormouse woodland shows Government rowing back on its own biodiversity commitments.

Government road builder Highways England has put to the public vote three routes which would ALL tear through a rare ancient woodland - home to the protected and threatened hazel dormouse - in their pitch for a new bypass around Arundel in West Sussex. Astoundingly it comes just two years after it committed to no net loss of biodiversity by 2020*, says the Woodland Trust.

Just a six km stretch of road could put the scale of woodland loss in the same bracket as national infrastructure project HS2. The Woodland Trust – with just 5 days to go [consultation deadline October 16] – is urging the UK public  to register their opposition. The charity, which campaigns for  stronger legislation to stop ancient woodland loss, is concerned the go-ahead could set a worrying precedent at a time when it’s fighting 723 woods under threat – the most in its 45 year history.

TV presenter and naturalist Chris Packham is backing their appeal. He said:  

“ While a bypass around Arundel may or may not be needed, it’s totally unacceptable for Highways England, a government company, to propose three highly destructive road building options as the solution. Up to 24 ha of ancient woodland could be lost – that’s a choice no one should be expected to make.

“The only sensible option is to reject all three proposals, and send the clear message that any loss to ancient woodland is to lose a precious resource for species like the rare Bechstein’s bat, lesser spotted woodpeckers and hazel dormice. And for what – just a stretch of road that may only provide temporary relief to ever increasing traffic?”

The  three routes would devastate either 5.5 hectares, 6 hectares or 24 hectares of ancient woodland of the Binsted Wood and Rewell Wood complexes around Arundel. Local MP and former shadow environment minister Nick Herbert is championing a route which would see the largest loss of ancient woodland at 24 hectares.

While the impact would be felt most keenly by locals, the reverberations are most certainly national. Not just because if any of the options get the green light the UK would have lost a tranche of its best woods and wildlife, but because of the example it sets. “This scheme is especially troubling because it’s a government-backed scheme,” explains Woodland Trust campaigner Oliver Newham. “If they think it’s okay to destroy ancient woodland, everyone else will think so too”. 

And all this three years after the Government drew up new legislation requirements for Highways England to adhere - to cause no net loss of biodiversity by 2020.

Oliver continues: “Road building doesn’t have to be at the detriment of the natural environment; we have seen some evidence of forward thinking such as the Hindhead tunnel in Surrey, this is the standard to which other schemes should aspire.”

To comprehend the scale, the new road would wipe out more than 44 football pitches of ancient woodland. That’s the equivalent of all the grounds in the Premiership and Championship combined disappearing!

Oliver continues:

“This isn’t a choice. All three options will see the largescale destruction of woods which now cover only a tiny proportion of the UK and yet are internationally renowned and home to more species of conservation concern than any other land-based habitat. These woods brim with life. Glow worms light up these floors at dusk in summer, nightjars return each year and  increasingly threatened dormice – extinct in many counties – maintain a hold here.

“There’s an untruth being peddled that new trees can be planted elsewhere to make up for losing these woods. They can’t. Ancient woods, even those currently being restored, are unique and irreplaceable. Once these woods are gone they’re gone, along with all the wildlife they support. “

 

One of the woods that stands to be affected is owned by Julie and Tony Upson.

“We’re slap bang in the middle of the proposed road. One of the possible routes cuts through Tortington Common where we are restoring Noor Wood (noorwood.co.uk), part of the ancient broadleaf woodland of the South Downs national park.” says Tony Upson. “It’s primarily broadleaf, with one vintage yew tree of about 450 years old.” 

Despite the threat hanging over them, the Upsons are continuing to coppice hazel, monitor dormouse populations in their 65 dormice boxes and help members of Dyscover, a charity that helps people who have suffered strokes, to get their ‘green fix’.

The Woodland Trust is currently campaigning for 723 threatened woods. This is the highest number of woodlands under threat in its 45 year history

The charity is urging people to register their opposition via its website before the consultation closes on October 16.