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Ancient woodland falls under Government’s axe in first real test of new planning rules

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The Woodland Trust is calling for greater ancient woodland protection.

The announcement follows the news today that 32 hectares of ancient woodland, a precious wildlife habitat in Kent, has been consigned to destruction in one of the UK's largest losses of ancient woodland in the last five years.

Following a Public Inquiry last November, during which the charity led on giving evidence against the proposals, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, today approved the planning application for a controversial quarry extension into ancient Oaken Wood near Maidstone. This is the first real test of whether the Government’s recent planning reforms would offer sufficient protection to ancient woodland. 

Woodland Trust Chief Executive, Sue Holden, said:

“This is a landmark decision, but for all the wrong reasons. This so-called ‘greenest Government ever’ stated that the new National Planning Policy Framework1 would give sufficient protection to irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland. It clearly does not.

“We are extremely concerned now that this outcome could define the level of protection given to ancient woods in all future planning decisions across England. With just 2% ancient woodland cover remaining, we can not afford to lose any more. Ancient woodland is irreplaceable and, as such, no mitigation exists for its loss.”

The application had been strongly opposed by the Woodland Trust in a 2-year campaign along with 6,000 of its members and supporters, Kent Wildlife Trust, and hundreds of local opponents who formed the ‘Save Oaken Wood’ community group.

As well as the impact this quarry extension will have on the community including reduced access to the wood's public pathways, a variety of rare wildlife species reside in the wood and are now under threat, including Pipstrelle and Natterer’s bats.

Oaken Wood is one of over 300 ancient woods under threat currently on the Woodland Trust’s books across the UK, covering nearly 9,000 hectares of woodland. To strengthen ancient woodland protection, the Trust is pushing for Government and Natural England to increase designations for the habitat. 85% of ancient woodland remains undesignated and, compared to other habitats, is underrepresented.

In Kent alone 88 woods have been threatened with loss or destruction in the last 10 years and the charity is currently fighting another battle over the widening of the A21 between Tonbridge and Pembury, which could see the loss of a further 9 hectares of ancient woodland.

About the Author

Alison Kirkman

Alison Kirkman

PR Officer

I highlight our work to end the destruction of ancient woodland from development, both on a national scale by drawing attention to the loophole in Government planning guidance and the ancient woods threatened by HS2, and on a local scale by putting cases like Oaken and Smithy Wood in the spotlight.

More from Alison Kirkman

Enough is enough - ancient woodland needs protecting

Quarry next to Oaken Wood

Woods and trees can’t speak up against the relentless threats they are facing.

Add your voice to our campaign