Translocation is not an option
Another huge step forward is that the Standing Advice now boldly states that ‘you can’t move an ancient woodland ecosystem’. This might seem an obvious statement to make. However, our evidence shows more and more developments proposed where the ‘translocation’ of ancient woodland soils from the development site to another area is proposed as some form of compensation for the habitat that is lost. On the two HS2 phases alone, translocation is currently proposed in at least thirty separate instances. There is no evidence on the effectiveness of this process – a fact that is often used to bamboozle planning committees into believing the ancient habitat can be successfully recreated. NE has gone a long way to help dispel the myth that this could be the answer to building on these precious sites.
Not all developments affect ancient woodland directly. We frequently see planning applications for developments (usually housing) that go right up to the edge of a neighbouring ancient wood. However, altering land use so close to ancient woodland can have damaging impacts that degrade the woods over time. For example, increases in noise and lighting can impact on bird species, the creation of informal paths leads to reductions in plants species sensitive to trampling, and housing adjacent to woodland often results in increases in flytipping. While the long-term impact of these indirect effects is very difficult to quantify, what is clear is that creating a buffer between the development and the woodland is successful in reducing them. Until recently, NE had promoted the idea of a 15m buffer. This was only ever intended to be a minimum, but unfortunately it is often quoted as the requirement. It was rare to see wider buffers, despite there being an increasing body of evidence to support buffers of 50m plus in width. We're delighted to see this now reflected in the updated Standing Advice, where a 50m buffer is formally recommended in order to protect an ancient wood from pollution and trampling.
Moving in the right direction
The Standing Advice was published last week and it remains to be seen how quickly it will lead to changes in decision-making. However, it is yet another step in the right direction, giving us hope that the Government’s commitment to improving protection for ancient woodland and veteran trees can truly come to something. We’re rolling up our sleeves in preparation for the big one – the National Planning Policy Framework is due for an update and should be out for consultation early next year. We’ll need you to speak up for our ancients then – could it really be for the last time?
Planners, developers and consultants can find the updated Standing Advice here. In the meantime, we need everyone’s help to impress on the Government that people want ancient woodland and veteran trees to be given better protection. If you believe they should be considered as natural heritage assets which have shaped our history, and are crucial to our future, please add your voice to our ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign. You’ll give our ancients the voice they so badly need.