Two years on, warm words and assurances have not converted to action. Ancient woodland habitats deserve better.
We launched the Enough is Enough campaign in 2014 in response to thoughtless remarks from the Government about ‘replacing’ ancient woodland; the final straw in a long line of frustrations about how ancient woodland and ancient trees were being treated in policy and key decisions. The huge public response the campaign immediately generated caught the Government’s attention; we met with the right people, and they said the right things: ancient woodlands should be properly cared for, respected and kept safe from harm.
Sadly, so far very little has changed for ancient woodland. Except that the situation is worsening. Politics, like forestry, is a long game. But since 2014 the UK has been served by three – count ‘em – different governments, and a new Defra team every time. It’s no wonder progress has been difficult.
The main cause of our problems however is not solely down to political changes, constraining as they have been. One thing has been consistent - dogged insistence from the Government that ancient woodland is “adequately protected”. We beg to differ.
Every day we see the planning system let ancient woodland habitats down. And as this persists, the impacts of climate change, the ravages of tree disease, and the progressive fallout from intensive land use are taking their toll on what’s left of these precious places.
Meanwhile, too many planted ancient woodland sites are being restocked with non-native species before they can be given the chance to recover.
Ancient habitats have little defence too from poor or inappropriate management. For example, we are – increasingly - seeing the complete removal of important trees judged to be ‘discriminatory’. If the situation wasn’t so tragic, it would be laughable.
Why does this matter?
The UK’s ancient woodland habitats are made up of our earliest native woods, priority ancient wood pasture and our ancient and veteran trees. Regular readers of our blog will know that these are our last remaining primary components of the UK’s ‘old growth’ woodland. It’s not exactly the same but a helpful equivalent would be the rainforest.
The irony of talking about the same kind of special places many of us implore other people to save, on the other side of the world, is not lost on me.
The UK’s ancient habitats are our richest land-based habitats - and irreplaceable to boot. Any time we ask people to speak up for ancient woods and trees, the response is clear. We just want them to be safe. Safer than they are today anyway! They are critical territories for species dispersal and gene flow, and for ensuring that woodland and other species can adapt to climate change and other pressures. They are also iconic elements of many landscapes, in particular ancient and veteran trees: their beauty and sheer stature fascinates and attracts us, providing ways for us to engage with and understand the natural world. They are also important, but under-researched, areas for biological and scientific study.
Woodland planted today, even those woods established over the last century, will evolve in entirely different ways. Should we lose these last few sites, the secrets of our ancient habitats will be gone forever.
Loss is permanent
We’re getting ready to go to the right people to get the help our ancient habitats need. We don’t intend to bombard the new Prime Minister with demands, but we can’t wait to find a suitable political window. Nature underpins everything (yes, the economy too). And ancient woodland habitats are a fundamental component of our natural world. Now is the time to see that message writ large through May’s new government’s policy and actions. It’s vital that all custodians of this unique resource understand the importance of these habitats and have the tools to guarantee their care.
First things first: remind the Government that we’re still here, and we’re still not alone. We’re gathering as much support as possible behind the campaign.
We believe ancient woodland habitats deserve better.