Skip Navigation

Planning review strengthens protection for irreplaceable ancient woodland

Prime Minister Theresa May has announced plans to overhaul England’s planning policy that will afford ancient woodland far more robust protection.

For decades we have led the charge for ancient woods to be given the same protection as our manmade heritage. It’s now proposed that the National Planning Policy Framework will state “development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons.”

Moving in the right direction

This decision to amend planning policy to robustly protect ancient woodland is great news, and not before time. The proposed change will make the words on ancient woodland protection contained in the recent 25 year plan for the environment a reality.

England has been losing these incredible irreplaceable habitats for decades, in many cases due to the lack of clarity in the policy wording. Short-term decisions based on weak policy have allowed huge chunks of our best woodland to be lost forever, for development which is simply not necessary in that location, such as car parks, holiday lodges, golf courses and paintballing centres, despite often staunch local opposition.

The proposed change of wording will provide greater clarity for local planning authorities, speed up decision making and save resources by heading off inappropriate applications and subsequent long drawn out campaigns against them.

This is potentially a huge step forward and one that the Government must be given due credit for, following through on its manifesto commitment.

This opportunity has the chance to be a momentous game changer for ancient woodland habitat (Photo: Judith Parry/WTML)
This opportunity has the chance to be a momentous game changer for ancient woodland habitat (Photo: Judith Parry/WTML)

Woods under threat

Last year, we had to respond to more ancient woods under threat from inappropriately sited development than ever before in our 45 year history. This came in the same year as England in particular stalled on tree planting rates, forcing us to reveal that the country was surely slipping unnoticed into a state of deforestation.

Our experience from the data we record and monitor is that large scale housing developments generally do not directly destroy ancient woodland. Their impact is usually indirect through the isolating of woods in the landscape or by putting too much pressure on this sensitive habitat in terms of light and pollution. This change to the NPPF will compel developers to be more considerate in their approach, concentrating more on the design and layouts of the proposed developments to minimise impacts on ancient woodland. Design and clear advice is the obvious remedy.

While the new wording is good news, it’s worth noting that ancient and veteran trees haven’t been included in the policy amendments. We will be making a strong case for strengthening their protection via the consultation process.

This opportunity has the chance to be a momentous game changer for ancient woodland habitat. We want to make sure it survives the consultation and becomes law, so look out for our public campaign over the next few weeks.

Find out why this is so important

Learn more about ancient woodland