Highways England should reveal just how much ancient woodland is under threat of loss or damage from the Lower Thames Crossing says the Woodland Trust.

The charity has renewed its call for clarity after Highways England launched a new public consultation into the road scheme linking Essex and Kent on 29 January, but has yet again failed to put a figure on the threat to the precious irreplaceable habitat.

The Trust’s own assessment of the impacts is worrying:

  • Nine areas of ancient woodland are threatened with direct damage and loss, three of which are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) including the Woodland Trust-owned Ashenbank Woods SSSI.
  • Three further ancient woods face deterioration from indirect damage.
  • 15 veteran trees are within the development boundary and as such are under threat of damage or loss.

Lead campaigner at the Trust, Jack Taylor said:

“We know the Lower Thames Crossing is the road to ruin for local ancient woodland, but we don’t know just how bad it’s going to be. That’s unacceptable.  Highways England needs to publish the full details and stop hiding just how bleak the picture is.”

“We want the protection of ancient woods and trees to be a priority before Highways England submits its application to the Planning Inspectorate. It needs to listen to concerns for the ancient woods and veteran trees of Essex and Kent. Many of these woods are prime examples of ancient woodland and are specially protected in recognition of their value and uniqueness. They are living descendants from Britain’s prehistory and home to some of our rarest and most iconic species, from bluebells to dormice to woodpeckers.

“We are not against the principle of a new crossing but believe that the destruction and deterioration of ancient woodland is unacceptable. These are irreplaceable national treasures and we must do all we can to protect them.”

Ancient woodland cover stands at just 2.4% in the UK. Ancient woods are defined as land that has been continuously wooded since 1600 which makes them irreplaceable. Many are often centuries older.

The continuity of conditions over hundreds, maybe thousands, of years has led to the development of complex and valuable ecological communities. From deep underground in the soils, through the forest floor, the numerous vegetative layers through to above the tree canopy, the many different species associated with these habitats interact with each other to create one of the most dynamic and wildlife rich ecosystems in the UK.

Highways England’s consultation closes on 25 March. Members of the public who would like to add their voice to the Trust’s and call for Highways England to protect ancient woods and veteran trees can do so via www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/campaigns.

Notes to editors

Media enquiries to Dee Smith on 01476 581121 or media@woodlandtrust.org.uk

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:  

  1. protect ancient woodland which is rare, unique and irreplaceable
  2. restoration of damaged ancient woodland, bringing precious pieces of our natural history back to life
  3. 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 approximately 29,000 hectares. Access to its woods is free so everyone can benefit from woods and trees.

The sites the Trust considers to be at risk are:

Direct loss: (*SSSIs)

Kent:

  • Shorne Wood*
  • Brewers Wood*
  • Brices Plantation*
  • Ashenbank Wood*
  • Cole Wood 
  • Codham Hall Wood
  • Claylane Wood

Essex:

  • Rainbow Wood
  • Ashen Shaw

Indirect damage:

Essex:

  • Folkes Lane Woodland
  • Hobbs Hole
  • Frank Wood.