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Campaigns update: challenging the Oxford-Cambridge development project

As if HS2 wasn’t enough, another huge infrastructure project is now threatening our ancient woods. The Oxford-Cambridge development project presents another unacceptable threat to ancient woods and trees.

But a series of recent wins continues to show that our unrelenting efforts to protect ancient woodland are paying off. These successes have buoyed our morale and we’re hopeful we can save more woods from this latest challenge.

What are the development plans?

This major project plans to create up to a million new homes, build a new dual carriageway and railway.

The Western section has already reached the public inquiry stage. The latest consultation focused on new track lying within the central section of the East West Rail (EWR) scheme.

It’s likely that all five potential route corridors could significantly impact:

  • ancient woods
  • ancient and veteran trees
  • five Woodland Trust woods.

Our campaigning on the Oxford to Cambridge development arc has begun and is likely to keep us busy for the foreseeable future.

Toft Wood is one of those threatened by the Oxford-Cambridge development project (Photo: WTML)
Toft Wood is one of those threatened by the Oxford-Cambridge development project (Photo: WTML)

Rail company withholding information

Usually, we’d expect more detailed information on a project of this significance and potential impact. But EWR is choosing not to share.

They did offer to tell us more - if we signed a non-disclosure agreement promising not to share the information with you, our supporters!

Naturally, we refused. It’s unthinkable that we would ever withhold information that could help these irreplaceable habitats.

Instead, we launched a campaign to make sure you could help. It was a quick-fire affair, with less than a week for supporters to submit responses. But, as ever, you didn’t let us down! Over 3,300 of you took part to demand that ancient and veteran trees should be protected and that EWR should release the maps to help us do exactly that.

Success stories around the UK

We’ve also had some good news in the last month.

At School Wood in Buckinghamshire, an application for housing in ancient woodland has been rejected.

This decision was made solely on the basis of direct loss of ancient woodland. It even quoted the revised wording (paragraph 175) of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It’s great to see this legal protection working. Read our blog about the NPPF changes.

There’s been more good news in Scotland too. Argyll and Bute Council has rejected an application partly based on impact to ancient woodland.

On a separate application, it requested that a buffer should be put in place between a development and ancient woodland, based on our advice. This will reduce the impact of light, pollution, litter and noise that can disturb ancient woodland flora and fauna.

In Wales, a proposed poultry unit has been recommended for refusal by the planning committee. The application threatened ancient Coed y Gopa Wood with ammonia pollution.

Near the North Wales coast, Coed y Gopa was threatened by ammonia pollution from a poultry unit (Photo: WTML)
Near the North Wales coast, Coed y Gopa was threatened by ammonia pollution from a poultry unit (Photo: WTML)

The committee:

  • cited dissatisfaction with Natural Resources Wales’ advice
  • referenced the biodiversity impacts from ammonia on ancient woodland, as highlighted in our March update post.

This promises to be a significant decision, setting a precedent for planning authorities in future cases of this kind.

We can only protect the trees and woods we know about

It’s so rewarding for us to be able to share significant wins like these. They show that changes in planning policy and your support are leading to fewer ancient woods and trees being lost forever.

We are making a difference. But we can always do more! We need to know where our precious trees are to be able to protect them.

You can help us out by adding your nearest gnarly old trees to the ancient woodland inventory. It takes just a few minutes, but can help keep these trees safe for decades to come.

Help us protect ancient and veteran trees

Become a recorder for the ancient tree inventory