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Government recognises need to improve ancient woodland protection

It’s official: the Government has acknowledged that changes to the planning system are needed to improve protection for irreplaceable ancient woodland.

The Government has recognised the need to make changes to the planning system to increase protection for ancient woodland and aged and veteran trees. New proposals are included in the Housing White Paper published last week.

The Woodland Trust is currently dealing with an unprecedented number of threats to ancient woodland, with 709 woods at risk across the whole of the UK. It has become increasingly clear that existing planning protection is failing ancient woodland and that the rules desperately need to be amended.

It’s great news that the Government has recognised this and have proposed changes to planning rules as part of their new Housing White Paper published last week. The proposed changes will only apply in England, but that is massive progress. The bulk of all our known cases of ancient woods at risk are sites coming under pressure from roads, quarries and development across the whole of England.

For years, we have called for the wording in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) to be altered so as to make it clear that any loss of ancient woodland or special trees should be ‘wholly exceptional’. This would give them protection comparable with heritage assets, like historic buildings, battlefields and monuments. The current wording in paragraph 118 of the NPPF leaves a serious loophole that often results in planning decisions which allow irreplaceable ancient woods to be permanently damaged or completely destroyed.

The Government has now made it clear that it wants better protection for ancient woodland too, proposing changes to give them protection equivalent to Sites of Special Scientific Interest and designations like Green Belt. This will mean closing the loophole in paragraph 118 by getting revised wording that delivers strong, clear and effective protection.

You can help us seize the day

The consultation on these proposals is the next crucial step. It is the key opportunity to ensure that the Government’s welcome intentions are turned into clear and meaningful planning policy, which delivers real protection on the ground. Our members and campaigners will be the first to know our next steps.

The best way to stay up to date - and help us keep up the pressure - is to add your support to our Enough is Enough campaign