Ancient British woodland and veteran trees are truly exceptional entities. Mechanically unique in each region of the UK, these century old woodlands have ecologically transformed themselves into biologically diverse powerhouses of scientific and cultural importance. The justly positive sentiments that the thousands of us feel as we physically and emotionally explore these magical places traverses’ generation after generation. Imbedded in huge swaths of local folklore, heritage and national history, you’ll even find depictions of woodland features embellished on the pages of a British passport.
To further understand the dramatic importance of these woods strive to comprehend how old they actually are. The Forestry Commission (2015) define an ancient woodland as one that has continuously existed since at least 1600ad, although ‘ancient’ status can vary depending on the type of tree and where it has grown (ATF, 2015). The definition of veteran trees can also relate to a trees age but also encompasses other specific factors including being a single tree of special scientific interest or for beholding unique characteristics when compared within its own species. Areas of ancient woodland and some veteran trees then are older than any sentient being, can be older than most physical structures, have survived many notable wars, were probably around for the dissolution of the catholic church, the signing of the magna carta and the first Viking raids on London! Some areas may even be remnants of the British wildwood, woodland that emerged after the last ice age around 11,000 years ago!
You may then incorrectly assume that these giants of time and space are in abundance on the British Isles. However, much of our areas of natural interest including ancient woodlands have in recent years been erased through poor site and tree management, various pests and diseases, the increasing demands of agriculture, climate change and infrastructure development. In fact, the Woodland Trust (2017) estimates where once huge plains of British landscape were covered in these forests now only under 2% of the UK contains any amount of Ancient Woodland.
I could go on in some detail upon why and how these woodlands are so important environmentally, scientifically, culturally, spiritually, physiologically and socially. This is something I hope to do in future blogs but today I need to skip right to the chase and critically highlight the lack of protection for these vulnerable ecosystems from future development. More specifically the English housing market.
Under current National Policy Planning Framework there are loopholes which enable developers to bypass protection laws leading to over 400 ancient woods currently being under threat. Encouragingly the government has recently opened debate for higher protection through a new housing paper potentially putting these areas on level with national parks and greenbelts. However, these proposals still do not address the loopholes in the original planning policies meaning the destruction of these woods can and will continue. For the first time in five years consultation of the new housing policies is currently underway until the 2nd of May and this is where you can help. By singing the petition (that I will add a link to at the bottom of this article) which asks for the changing to the wording of the policy to address the loopholes, you can positively show that you agree with the protection of our local and national environments. This isn’t a hopeful punt for glory kind of petition, these issues are actually up for debate and could change the future of the English landscape for centuries to come!
As a young person who has grown up in South London I fully understand and have experienced directly the crisis in affordable housing that the whole of the UK is currently under. Nevertheless, with a plethora of other options available this is not an excuse for the government and developers to attack the tiny proportion of native wild woodland that is still in existence in England. I still remember how heartbroken I was when I was a young lad and a tiny area of my local, seemingly insignificant park was developed for a group of town houses. That is not something I wish, or for anyone else to experience again, especially in regard to areas of such substantial importance.
If you would like to add your name to the petition you can gain instant access to the Woodland Trust’s campaign by following this link…
The lovely people at the trust have even written a suggested response just in case you’re too impassioned after reading this blog to think clearly about what you would like to say!…
‘I agree with the intention to strengthen the protection for ancient woodland and aged and veteran trees. However, unless the specific planning policy for ancient woodland and aged and veteran trees (paragraph 118) in the NPPF is also amended accordingly, the proposals ‘to amend the presumption in favour of sustainable development so that the list of policies which the Government regards as providing reasons to restrict development is limited to those set out currently in footnote 9 of the National Planning Policy Framework (so these are no longer presented as examples), with the addition of Ancient Woodland and aged or veteran trees’ cannot be effective.’
For more information about the housing planning policy written in an more eloquent fashion please check out the Woodland Trusts website this link…
Ancient Tree Forum (2015) accessible at Ancient, veteran and other definitionshttp://www.ancienttreeforum.co.uk/ancient-trees/what-are-ancient-veteran-trees/
The Forestry Commission (2015) Ancient woodland and veteran trees: protecting them from development. Accessible at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/ancient-woodland-and-veteran-trees-protection-surveys-licences
The Woodland Trust (2017) What is ancient woodland? Accessible at http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/about-us/ancient-woodland-restoration/ancient-woodland/what-is-ancient-woodland/