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Campaigns update: Game of Thrones hedges, ancients and holiday chalets

It’s both wins and losses for the campaigns team and the woods and trees we’re fighting to protect this month. Precious ancients and veterans (roots and all) are threatened by housing developments. But we also had a lovely surprise about the future of a ‘twiggy’ TV star.

Ancients and veterans

Risks to some of our most precious trees can be both above and below ground - despite the protections in place and their heritage value. We’ve been dealing with two such cases in England recently.

An application to build 100 houses in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, could result in the loss of and damage to many ancient oaks and an ancient ash. Another concern is that the development will encroach on the Root Protection Areas (RPAs) of several of the ancient oaks. Some of these trees are already protected by Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) which means that Cheltenham Borough Council has previously deemed these trees worth protecting for everyone to enjoy, now and in the future. We have sent in an objection to the plans and await a decision.

A veteran oak in Walsall faces a similar fate due to plans to replace a bungalow with four new houses. In the proposals it was unclear if the nearby trees had sufficient RPAs, so we recommended the council ask that greater distances be applied for the RPAs of the trees. There was more uncertainty around whether the trees have TPOs, and whether these trees will be safe from the actions of future residents. Despite our advice and objection to the plans, sadly this development was approved.

Ancient and veteran trees like these have so much significance - culturally, ecologically, locally and even internationally. The UK has more unprotected ancient trees than the rest of Northern Europe. Each ancient tree is a diverse ecosystem in its own right that can host a huge variety of species, from bats to invertebrates. Veteran trees are important too as the ancient trees of the future. These trees echo the lives of past generations of people in ways that no other part of our natural world is able to.

Another challenge with the removal of groups of aged trees (like we’re seeing in these two cases) is that the trees are providing some of the closest habitats for rare species; if one tree goes they can move to the next. These species depend on decaying wood, ageing bark and old root systems. The more trees in the area, the richer the mix of species living with them. But if these trees all suddenly disappear, the wildlife has nowhere to go.

(Photo: WTML / Michael Cooper) The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland starred in HBO’s Game of Thrones
(Photo: WTML / Michael Cooper) The Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland starred in HBO’s Game of Thrones

And now for the good news!

England may be letting woods and trees down this month but we have a couple of good news stories from other countries, about a famous line of trees in Northern Ireland and chalet plans in Scotland.

If you watch the fantasy TV series Game of Thrones you might recognise the tunnel of tall silver trees with thick twisting trunks on the Kings Road. These wonderful trees crowd over heroine Arya Stark and the dead king’s secret progeny Gendry, as they make their escape from King's Landing. This atmospheric scene was filmed at what is known as the Dark Hedges, an historic avenue of stunning ancient beeches on Bregagh Road, near Armoy. They were already well-loved, but their starring role has since brought them international fame, with tourists and fans travelling from all over to admire these stunning, fantastical trees.

However, this international acclaim has put the Dark Hedges at risk, due to high levels of traffic and footfall. The Woodland Trust in Northern Ireland had supported the call to close the road so the trees, a victim of their own success, can be protected. Stormont’s Department for Infrastructure has now brought in a ban on cars using the road in County Antrim. We’re thrilled to hear these glorious trees are now safe for future generations (and Game of Thrones fans) to continue to enjoy.

Meanwhile, beyond the Wall (Hadrian’s Wall that is) up in the Cairngorms, an ancient woodland has been saved from proposals to build holiday chalets within the wood. Ancient woodlands, as fragile and diverse ecosystems that have developed on centuries-old soils, are not appropriate places for holiday chalets due to loss, damage and ongoing impacts from human recreation. At planning committee councillors voted 8 to 5 for the motion to reject the application. These councillors have opted to prevent the destruction of this irreplaceable habitat. A huge thank you to them for having the foresight and care to look out for ancient woods and everything they support!

How you can help

The cases we fight every day happen because planning policy and enforcement is failing these irreplaceable habitats. The government is on the brink of bringing stronger protection to ancient woods and ancient trees. In the recent Housing White Paper, they recognised that ancient woods need better protection, and pledged to address this. Alongside more than 15,000 Trust supporters, we asked for a simple amendment to the wording in planning policy to make this a reality. We must keep the pressure on our ministers to make the right decision for our ancient woods and trees. Please help us pile on the pressure today.

Ask for stronger protection for ancient woods and trees

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