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Tarmac or trees: M4 fight with Welsh Government

Ancient Woodland is under threat in M4 extension and we're fighting for it.

We gave evidence in the public inquiry for the M4 relief road on Thursday, standing up for ancient woodland, which has been threatened by the route proposed by Welsh Government.

We had to remind the Welsh Government of its commitments to ancient woodland protection as stated in Planning Policy Wales:

“Ancient and semi-natural woodlands are irreplaceable habitats [that] should be protected from development that would result in significant damage”.

Despite this, tarmac is sadly trumping trees on the Welsh Government agenda, with up to five ancient woods facing loss or damage.

We work with the public to secure woodland against further developments (Photo: WTML/J Smith-Wright)

A disappointing precedent

Richard Barnes, our Senior Conservation Advisor, highlighted how Natural Resources Wales (NRW) had failed to mention ancient woodland in its 95 page review of the impacts of the relief road, despite the impact on woodlands on the Ancient Woodland Inventory held by NRW. Emphasising the irreplaceable nature of these ancient woodlands to the Welsh Government is necessary as they propose mitigation schemes for the woods that would be lost if the scheme goes ahead. Richard Barnes proposed a 30:1 minimum ratio of any replanted woodland to ancient woodland destroyed or undermined in this road redevelopment.

Though we would rather see the woods saved, this statement of 30:1 replanting would act as a disincentive to future development proposals on ancient woodland, and put Wales in line with Natural England suggestions for HS2 in England.

Not meeting the rhetoric

The Welsh Government has some of the most advanced policy commitments to sustainable futures and protecting woodland in Europe, however they are not meeting their rhetoric. The principle of ‘No Net Loss of biodiversity’ was at the centre of the challenge, and maintaining ancient woodland is central to this. Regrettably the economic argument is trumping countless other concerns of sustainable development in this M4 enquiry, even Sophie Howe the Welsh Government Commissioner for Future Generations believes the plan is ‘ill-conceived’.

Finding common ground

In areas of the proposed route, we were able to achieve some common ground, or clarification of the impacts, with Welsh Government. The inquiry was delayed while lawyers from both sides poured through the documents to agree wording, such as where there was and was not impact on ancient woodland.

Other environmental and community groups will be putting their concerns to the inquiry in the coming days and the closing statements will be held in the coming weeks – with the agreements published at the Royal Welsh Show in late July.

However this may not be the end, the fight over the M4 has been going on for decades and we are resolute in fighting for the protection of our ancient natural heritage, and all the benefits that come with it. It’s time to see trees protected ahead of tarmac.

We’re looking for volunteers to become Woods under Threat Reporters. We need you to seek out planning applications, newspaper articles or leaflets about developments in or next to an old wood or tree.