Destruction of ancient woodland 'highly unlikely'

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It is "highly unlikely" ancient woodland would be destroyed under new plans to speed up the planning process, the government has insisted.

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson had suggested in the Times lost trees could be replaced by planting more elsewhere.

He was discussing government proposals to mitigate environmental damage caused by development through "offsetting".

A spokesman for his department said the idea that this would apply to ancient woodland was "very hypothetical".

So-called "biodiversity offsetting" is intended to ensure "no net loss" of biodiversity to an area.

Campaigners from the Woodland Trust said offsetting should only ever be a last resort, and Friends of the Earth has warned against putting nature "up for sale".

But a spokesman for the Department for the Environment stressed a consultation on the policy had only just closed and that any proposals to build on land covered by such woodland would still have to go through a "vigorous planning process".

He added: "The policy already exists in America and Australia. We've been running some pilot schemes over the last year or so and we think the idea of offsetting could work."

'Increase in trees'

BBC News political correspondent Chris Mason said the environment secretary had long made it clear that his priority was growing the economy as well as improving the natural environment.

Start Quote

People will say that's no good for our generation but, over the long term, that is an enormous increase in the number of trees”

End Quote Owen Paterson Environment secretary

Mr Paterson has previously expressed frustration with the planning system, which he has claimed can approach environmental concerns in an "expensive and inefficient" manner.

He sees offsetting as a measurable way to ensure environmental improvements are made elsewhere when development that cannot be avoided causes damage, our correspondent added.

In his interview with the Times, the environment secretary cited the construction of the M6 toll road around Birmingham, saying 10,000 mature trees had been lost, but a million young trees planted.

"Now people will say that's no good for our generation - but, over the long term, that is an enormous increase in the number of trees," he added.

He said it was "a practical example of a high amount of planting following a tragic loss of some wonderful trees".

And he added that it would be appropriate for a replacement site to be "about an hour away by car".

'Bigger sites'

Six areas of England are taking part in a two-year pilot of biodiversity offsetting, which began in April 2012.

The scheme aims to ensure that when a development causes unavoidable damage to biodiversity, "new, bigger or better nature sites will be created".

A consultation on how the scheme could be rolled out across England closed in November.

The consultation acknowledges ancient woodland would be "impossible to recreate on a meaningful timetable".

The Environmental Audit Committee of the House of Commons said recently the plans outlined by the government must be strengthened if they were to "properly protect Britain's wildlife".

The MPs said an assessment proposed by the government appeared to be "little more than a 20-minute box-ticking exercise that is simply not adequate to assess a site's year-round biodiversity".

The Woodland Trust has campaigned against the inclusion of ancient woodlands in any offsetting scheme and it rejects the suggestion that the future of these habitats should rest on the proposed economic benefit of a given development.

It has said offsetting should "only ever be a last resort when all other avenues have been explored to avoid loss or damage".

The National Trust said "irreplaceable" habitats must be excluded from such a policy and added it was "deeply concerned" at any suggestion otherwise.

Conserving and protecting ancient and historic woodland is one of the Trust's charitable purposes.

A spokesman said: "Offsetting the losses of wildlife that usually accompany development by creating replacement habitats could be a useful addition to the planning system.

"But it mustn't mean mature irreplaceable habitats being replaced by low-quality habitats that will take decades to develop the character and complexity of those that have been lost."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 266.

    Me and my chums will make loads of money out of developments and offset it by paying minimum tax.

  • rate this

    Comment number 265.

    The arrogance and self-serving interests of Paterson is absolutely breath taking ! This man and his like minded junior ministers are the biggest environmental disaster this nation has had to endure.

    Friends of the Earth, The Woodland Trust, Wildlife Trust, RSPB, WWT, BTO and all other wildlife/environmental charities/organisations...get off the fence !..act in unison and take action !

  • rate this

    Comment number 264.

    Did these fool's go to the university of stupid or what!! When are these idiots going to get it through their thick craniums that there is alternative land that can be built on. As David Wallis rightly states, why not knock down some grade 1 listed buildings and build flats in place of them. Why not, these clowns with government help are going remove trees that took 100 years or more to grow!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 263.

    High time that Owen Patterson was offset by a turnip.

  • Comment number 262.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 261.

    Land of our fathers. Wasteland for our sons. It's not the trees that need axing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 260.

    “it would be only for major infrastructure projects”

    So this has nothing to do with needed housing (which can avoid wooded land) and it is really all about helping HS2 avoid planning appeals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 259.

    DEFRA & Owen Patterson really are not fit for purpose. The clue is in the name ANCIENT woodland.

  • rate this

    Comment number 258.

    Offsetting is something we all need to take up and encourage.

    Starting with offsetting the demolition of Downing Street with sheds for beds in the fringes of London, then offset the demolition of Parliament with several aircraft hangars in the Falklands.

    That would be of benefit to the population of this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 257.

    The man is an idiot.

  • rate this

    Comment number 256.

    If ancient woodland were in fact irreplaceable, we would not have any of it; because two thousand years ago it was all gone. Guess what? It was replaced!

  • rate this

    Comment number 255.

    201. Drunken Hobo
    "And he added that it would be appropriate for a replacement site to be 'about an hour away by car'."

    Has someone informed Mr. Paterson that squirrels can't drive?


    No, squirrels cant...i know a few skunks that can however....

    225. IHatePolitics

    Well said mate. Its exactly this blinkered stupidity that politicians rely on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 254.

    This "Environment" Secretary, has fallen out of the idiot tree and hit every branch on the way down....

  • Comment number 253.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 252.

    Dear fellow environmentalists,

    This is a classic "Tragedies of the Commons" problem. It's known that unowned, government administered land is generally treated unsustainably compared to its privately owned counterparts; Look at public vs private grazing lots in USA.

    The solution is to privatise the commons. If green groups owned land, their expensive investment is protected private property :D

  • rate this

    Comment number 251.

    Ancient Woodland is irreplaceable and exists due to the hundreds of years of management it has received through human activity. Many of our woodlands today are in terrible condition with no management. Mr. Patterson should be trying to manage and preserve what we have, not planting trees as a finger in the wind exercise that will no doubt end up in poor condition through zero management!

  • rate this

    Comment number 250.

    Mr Paterson seems to be entirely out of touch with reality and the views of the public. I am disgusted at the thought of "off setting" our ancient woodland. Protect it don't destroy it!

    Redevelop land which has sat derelict for years in cities and towns across the country. Stop building mass new housing developments on once green fields which now cause mass local flooding problems everywhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    If it's true, Paterson should be ashamed of himself. What sort of an Environment Secretary is this ? Certainly not what I and many others voted for, and my NEXT vote will make that clear. Once ancient woodland is gone it's gone. You can't plant a few trees and consider that a replacement. What a fool !
    We might as well have King Herod, Cyril Smith and Jimmy Savile in charge of an orphanage !

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Here we have an Enviroment Minister who knows so little about the enviroment he thinks two new trees can replace one old one and thinks his job is to represent developers. In other words he is typical of the sort person found politics these days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    Hmmm. Trash existing green belt areas where there is very little benefit, or redevelop existing brownfield sites that have the infrastructure, and would cause very little environmental damage.

    Perhaps the planners should stop letting developers put up massive out of town business parks, and give businesses cheaper rates to re-use in town properties. That would help revive high streets as well.


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