In July 2018, the Government published the revised National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). It increased the protection of England’s ancient woodland and veteran trees – something we had long campaigned for. But sadly this new policy has not had an instant impact. Applications that will damage or destroy these irreplaceable habitats are still rolling in. We’re continuing our efforts to raise awareness of the stronger protection and why it’s important.
Years of campaigning pay off
For nearly two decades, we have:
lobbied and campaigned for better protection for our irreplaceable habitats
submitted objections to individual planning applications threatening ancient woods and trees.
In 2014, I gave evidence to the Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee’s investigation into the 2012 NPPF. We were delighted when the Committee later recommended ancient woodland should get the ‘wholly exceptional’ protection enjoyed by built heritage.
We continued lobbying the government to deliver this recommendation. In 2017, we produced our first Planners’ Manual for Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees. This again proposed the wholly exceptional test for planning policy.
Our campaign was finally successful in 2018. The NPPF stated that development should be refused unless there are ‘wholly exceptional’ circumstances, such as large infrastructure projects.
Putting policy into practice with new tools
We got straight to work making sure England’s Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) were fully aware of the changes. Our tasks included:
producing a learning module to help planners recognise ancient woods and trees
writing to all council leaders to highlight the changes to the NPPF
Among those we met at the conference was planning minister James Brokenshire MP. The Secretary of State of Housing, Communities and Local Government took a copy of the manual and told us about his love for trees.
400 English ancient woods and trees remain under threat
A year on, we have seen a 25% drop in cases in England - some councils have definitely taken this message on board.
But there is still a lot to do. We still have over 400 English cases of ancient woods and trees threatened by development. These vital habitats face direct losses and indirect impacts to make way for:
housing and highways projects
an extension to a hotel and spa
a tea room
a dairy farm (ammonia pollution will affect ancient woodland)
a caravan park
an extension to a zoo.
What happens now?
We have posted a copy of the revised planners’ manual to every head of planning in England. We’ve also offered to meet them to discuss strengthening their policies.
Persistence pays. This won’t be the last lobbying we need to do to protect our precious habitats, but with your support we will get there. You can help in lots of ways:
If you work in an English LPA, make sure your planning policy and management teams have copies of the manual.
If you live in an English LPA, check when local planning documents are due to be revised and let us know of any consultations. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.