Councils in England fail to enforce planning policy leaving ancient woodland still under threat
One year on from strengthened protection for ancient woodland in England, the Woodland Trust says local planners are still failing to safeguard the habitat the changes were designed to protect.
Despite changes to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) for England giving ancient woodland and trees the same protection as our finest listed buildings, some councils are still approving planning applications that contravene the new rules. The changes to the NPPF wording stipulated that any applications for development resulting in loss or damage to ancient woods or ancient and veteran trees should be refused unless they were ‘wholly exceptional’.
But inappropriate developments such as caravan parks or chicken and dairy farms have been approved by a number of local authorities over the last year, resulting in unacceptable loss or damage to ancient woodland.
And the number of ancient woods in England still under threat from live planning applications currently stands at 441. While this represents a drop of 25% on last year, possibly showing that the policy is being applied well in some areas, it is clear that councils are not being stringent enough in their examination of applications.
The changes to the NPPF were the culmination of almost 20 years of campaigning by the Woodland Trust. Now the Trust argues that some councils are still either unaware of the new wording and supporting guidance, or unwilling to suitably enforce it, and that more needs to be done to protect England’s oldest and most important trees and woodlands.
Woodland Trust director of conservation, Abi Bunker said:
“It is heart breaking to see that one year on from the ground-breaking changes to the NPPF, there are still too many councils and developers across England that are not implementing the level of protection it affords to ancient woods and trees. We can and must do better than this.
The Trust and its supporters have worked tirelessly over the last decade to protect these precious woodland habitats, including campaigning for this vital update to national policy. We have also worked with others to develop guidance and support to help local planners to implement it well.
Some local authorities are doing this really well and should be applauded, but we need all planning authorities and developers to fully implement the changes and secure our remaining ancient trees and woodlands for future generations.”
To address the situation in the short term, the Woodland Trust has written to all heads of planning in local authorities across England. The Trust has enclosed a copy of its revised Planners’ Manual, which is intended to help local authorities to adopt good practice and sound policy when making key decisions for woods and trees.
A major boost to ensuring that the legislation works effectively is the recent injection of £210,000 from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government that was awarded to the Woodland Trust as part of a £1.5 million collaboration with Natural England to update the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI). The AWI is a map-based record of around 52,000 ancient woodlands that offers a clear map of where ancient woodlands are located across the country. The revised inventory will ensure better and speedier planning decisions by eliminating the inaccuracies that cause confusion.
Where is this happening?
Ancient woodland is still being destroyed or irrevocably damaged due to the indirect impacts of developments bordering them. The Woodland Trust is concerned that English councils are failing to enforce the NPPF legislation, including the enforcement of adequate buffer zones. Here are some regional examples of where the NPPF has not worked:
South East: The region most heavily affected by applications to develop on or next to ancient woodland has suffered a mixture of 18 direct losses and indirect impacts due to housing and highways projects, as well as an extension to a hotel and spa in Ansteadbrook, Surrey. One disturbing example was the approval of a planning application to build a tea room within ancient woodland in Chinnor, south Oxfordshire.
South West: In Winchester there was a case of indirect loss where a development was approved with only an 8m buffer zone.
East Midlands: There have been three ancient woodlands in the East Midlands adversely affected by highways and housing projects, including for an application for an access track upgrade in Matlock, Derbyshire.
West Midlands: In Burton-on-Trent an application for the development of a dairy farm in the middle of several areas of ancient woodland surrounding the site was approved, which will result in long term impact to the woodland from ammonia pollution.
North West: There have been four ancient woodlands damaged or lost including to a caravan park in Carnforth, Lancashire, and a car park at Manchester Airport.
Yorkshire and The Humber: There have been four indirect losses including an extension to a zoo in Doncaster and a forest school structure in Sheffield.
London: There has been one direct loss of a veteran tree in London, following the approval of a housing development, where a veteran mulberry tree was translocated to Tower Hamlets.
Notes to editors:
For media queries only please contact Kevin Stanley in the Woodland Trust press office on 01476 581121 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The National Planning and Policy Framework (NPPF) (paragraph 175c1) states:
“When determining planning applications, local planning authorities should apply the following principles:
c) development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons58 and a suitable compensation strategy exists; and”
Footnote 58 states:
“For example, infrastructure projects (including nationally significant infrastructure projects, orders under the Transport and Works Act and hybrid bills), where the public benefit would clearly outweigh the loss or deterioration of habitat.”
The Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK. It has over 500,000 supporters. It wants to see a UK rich in native woods and trees for people and wildlife.
The Trust has three key aims: i) protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable, ii) restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life, iii) plant native trees and woods with the aim of creating resilient landscapes for people and wildlife.
Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,200 sites in its care covering over 29,000 hectares. Access to its woods is free.