When you think of major landowners in the UK, the Forestry Commission, National Trust and the Crown Estates are likely to spring to mind. Between them they look after tens of thousands of woods, well over a billion trees and more than three million acres of our soil. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is also right up there, controlling 2% of the UK’s land. This is all set for a major shakeup though.
In November 2016, the MoD published A Better Defence Estate, committing to reducing costs and in turn its landholdings by 30% by 2040. In total 91 of its sites are to be sold off, earmarked to help it meet its government target of delivering land for 55,000 new houses.
On many levels this should be good news. A 30% reduction in troop numbers from last century has seen many bases underutilised and increasingly expensive to maintain. These large brownfield sites represent an opportunity to access desirable land, often close to existing urban areas. As the recent Chattenden Barracks/ Lodge Hill controversy shows though, it’s never that easy.
In the Lodge Hill case, many thousands of people joined the RSPB in its defence of what had become the most important nightingale habitat in the UK. We, along with many other organisations also objected to the 5,000 houses being proposed on this old MoD base, not just for the adverse wildlife implications, but for the damaging impacts the development represented to five neighbouring ancient woodlands.