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Heading out and about with MPs

We work hard all year round, in and out of Parliament, raising threats to ancient woodland and calling for improved planning protection. We’re also actively involved with farmers up and down the country, helping to get trees in the ground for the benefits they provide through our MOREwoods scheme.

As part of this work I found myself  in the Meriden constituency on Friday with our campaign lead, Oliver Newham, and local MP Dame Caroline Spelman.

All eyes on the map with Dame Caroline Spelman MP (Photo: WTML)
All eyes on the map with Dame Caroline Spelman MP (Photo: WTML)

Aspbury’s Copse, found between the charming villages of Catherine de Barnes and Hampton in Arden outside Solihull, is ancient woodland that found itself divided by the M42 back in the 1970s. In 2014 we started work with local campaign groups and Dame Caroline to stop a new Motorway Service Area (MSA) proposed for land adjacent to this wood.

The development would have destroyed at least 0.4ha of this irreplaceable ancient woodland and would have caused further damage by isolating it from the rest of the environment, penning it between the M42 and its own access road and surrounding this remarkable biodiverse hotspot and the shelter it provides to badgers, birds, rare fungi and lichen.

Road improvement scheme

Now a proposed road improvement scheme to alleviate the pressure on Junction 6 of the M42 threatens to replicate the damage of the MSA proposal. Moreover, we fear that were this to proceed, it would provide the excuse needed for the MSA to be built and so compound the damage done.

Along with local campaigner Dave Cuthbert, we highlighted these issues, viewed the woodland, reviewed the local maps and discussed alternative site locations to ensure the ancient woodland remains unharmed, whilst allowing for much needed alleviation of one of the UK’s busiest road junctions.

We don't oppose infrastructure development as a matter of course, but where it threatens irreplaceable ancient woodland we will take a stand to defend the trees and soils. We explained this in our discussion and believe we highlighted some previously unknown, yet viable, alternatives which would ensure this ancient woodland stays safe for now.

However, as is the way with planning all development proposals, nothing is decided until plans are approved and the first brick, or piece of tarmac, is laid. So until that happens, please join us in calling for the Government to amend its ancient woodland wording in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). If we can get them to change paragraph 118 to say ancient woodland loss will only be allowed in circumstances that are ‘wholly exceptional’, then we can start to bring down the almost 700 threats to ancient woodland across the UK. This way we can protect the Aspbury’s Copses of this world, both now and into the future.

We can assist if you’re looking to plant a large number of trees.

Help with large scale planting

Flagship site

From the West Midlands on Friday, on Saturday I went with our senior farming advisor, Helen Chesshire to visit one of our biggest farming partners, L.J Fairburn and Sons Ltd, to highlight the importance of trees for farms with local MP Victoria Atkins. The weather was miserable but spirits were high and we were thrilled to be hosted at Barfen Farm, near Alford in Lincolnshire, one of the company’s flagship sites.

The Fairburn family have been long-time supporters of our mission in farming and have received trees from the Trust over the years through our MOREwoods scheme. On a chicken farm, and especially one that prides itself on its free range eggs, trees are a vital commodity, just as valuable as barns to a farmer and much more attractive.

Trees provide a myriad of benefits to poultry farms, including:
Improving ranging behaviour through cover, shelter and shade
Reducing injurious feather pecking by encouraging natural behaviour
Lowering parasite load and ammonia build-up
Reducing stress and increasing shade, leading to better quality eggs.

Chickens are descendants of the red junglefowl whose traditional habitat was woodland scrub. With trees, hens are encouraged to develop more of their natural traits, range further and engage in natural activity such as dust bathing. Together with the shelter from predators, these measures help to reduce stress in the birds, improving egg quality and farm productivity.

However, trees do more than just help poultry farms. In fact, they’re useful on all sorts of farms, from arable to sheep and everything in between. Read more about how we can help with large scale planting.

As you can see we all got involved, if a bit wet, and thoroughly enjoyed learning about the farm. We hope Victoria will carry the message about the role of trees on farms into her work in Parliament, especially as agriculture begins to move up the national agenda as we prepare to leave the European Union.

Check back in with this blog series to keep updated on our view of forthcoming changes to planning policy and proposals around agricultural support that will be consulted upon by Government shortly.

Finally a chance to dry off! L-R: Farmer Sarah Fairburn, Victoria Atkins MP and Helen Chesshire at Barfen Farm, near Alford, Lincs. (Photo: WTML)
Finally a chance to dry off! L-R: Farmer Sarah Fairburn, Victoria Atkins MP and Helen Chesshire at Barfen Farm, near Alford, Lincs. (Photo: WTML)

We can assist if you’re looking to plant a large number of trees.

Help with large scale planting