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Protecting an ancient generation of woods and trees

Threatened changes in Welsh planning could jeopardise further our few remaining ancient woods and trees. A mere 4% of the Welsh landscape retains these irreplaceable ancient woodlands and the exceptional habitat they provide. How we all respond to this new additional threat to ancient trees and ancient woodlands now is critical.

Why should we protect ancient woodlands and trees? (Photo: Nigel Pugh)
Why should we protect ancient woodlands and trees? (Photo: Nigel Pugh)

Growing up with woods

The woodlands of mid Wales were one of my favoured playgrounds. We witnessed seasons of snowdrops, native daffodils, wood anemones, bluebells, foxgloves, and an accompanying rich buzz of insects and song of many birds. These remaining ancient woods have barely disturbed leaf-layered soils, built over centuries, concealing communities of fungi, invertebrates and dormant seeds.

These rich soils all giving rise to exceptional and unique plant life, centuries of irreplaceable and now rare habitats have developed within them. These ancient woods are now fragmented among a dominant patchwork of grazing pasture. They cling to the sides of steep valleys or hillsides, small islands of rich habitat, with often only thin hedges to corridor and protect our precious wildlife between them.

Wood anemones, considered an indicator of ancient woods (Photo: WTML / Nigel Pugh)
Wood anemones, considered an indicator of ancient woods (Photo: WTML / Nigel Pugh)

Weakening protection

It is hugely worrying that after we successfully campaigned for the protection of ancient woodland within Planning Policy Wales (PPW), that the current Welsh Government consultation on its revision appears to propose weaker wording.

Currently PPW9 states that 'ancient and semi natural woodlands are irreplaceable habitats that should be protected from development', whereas the proposed revised version in PPW10 only states that 'every effort should be made to prevent potentially damaging operations'.

We are extremely concerned that this significantly rolls back protection. However, the public now has an opportunity to tell the Welsh Government not to risk the future of our ancient woods and trees.

Raising issue with the Minister

Being concerned about this, we raised the issue with Lesley Griffiths, the Cabinet Secretary for Energy, Planning and Rural Affairs. She has assured us that: “It is not the intention to weaken the strong support for ancient woodland through the planning system.”

This being a positive response, but if this is the intention, then we feel strongly that the wording needs to reflect this.

The revised version in PPW10 states “Such trees and woodlands should be afforded additional levels of protection and every effort should be made to prevent potentially damaging operations and their unnecessary loss.”

We fear that the word “unnecessary” in the sentence could be used by developers as leverage within planning law to damage or destroy our ancient woods and trees and their irreplaceable habitats further. This could significantly roll back protection! However, the public now has an opportunity to tell the Welsh Government not to risk the future of our ancient woods and trees.

A disappearing landscape

For centuries ancient trees and woods have been felled for construction, development or roads, often under the guise of ‘national interests’. Historically huge swathes have been replaced with conifer plantations or turned over to open mechanised farming and grazing.

Now ancient woods and trees are often found stranded, isolated, their roots exposed and under constant attack. Recently the Buttington Oak, Wales’ second oldest Oak fell down. It had stood in a field outside Welshpool for 1,000 years. It is safe to say that Wales’ ancient woods and trees have been next to deforested. This historic, cultural, biodiverse vital heritage for future generations is disappearing from our landscape.

Wales’ oldest and rarest trees and woods need our protection

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The essential role of planning authorities

It is so important that the planning system protects the environmental and cultural characteristics of our landscape. Ancient woods and trees should be cherished for their unique qualities. They provide irreplaceable ecosystems and wildlife habitats. They are a historic asset to protect, for our safety, health and well-being. Ancient woods and trees are a priceless inheritance for all of our children. They are a heritage to preserve right now and for all future generations.

A threat to act upon

Securing the strongest protection in addressing these new additional threats is vital in protecting those ancient woods and trees remaining. The habitat that they provide is now exceedingly rare and irreplaceable. It is to be considered the richest land-based habitat for wildlife in Wales. The new current threat is pressure to weaken planning policy around the protection for ancient woodlands and ancient trees. It is vital that we show strong public support for resisting this.

You can do this by joining us in responding to the Government’s consultation and telling them to strengthen, not weaken, protection for ancient woodland in Wales.

Wales’ oldest and rarest trees and woods need our protection

Take action