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 226.

    When they were stopped from selling off our forests, I thought that sooner or later they would try to achieve the same result through the back door.

    No national asset is safe from these carpetbaggers, and once something is sold, it is gone forever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    It is a pity that ancient woodland is not as respected as some of the old crap that passes as listed buildings.
    210. sodapop - some of the voters on here do not vote over issues but simply on Tory v Labour, voting down whoever knocks their party divine. It is tragic that serious issues become mere political ammo in the eyes of some. I can't distinguish Labour and Tory either: both suck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Owen Paterson backs ancient woodland 'óffsetting',

    Does he now? He sounds more like yet another obnoxious gormless tory Secretary of State for Money Money Money & yet more lovely Money in top tory trousers rather than a genuine Secretary of State for the Environment.

    Over my dead body this time,

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    There is a former MOD site in South Warwickshire, long disused, with much infrastructure, road/rail links, some housing already in place. It could not be described as an AONB. In short, a perfect place for a much needed, medium sized 'eco-town'. Guess who's fought tooth and nail to stop it happening? That's right, Tory local councillors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    "Yet another attack on our country from the out of touch and increasingly ludicrous Liblabcon."

    Are you UKIP or Green as I can't see how this policy coming from a Conservative Party government minister can be laid at the door of Labour or the Lib Dems and there is no mention of either in the above article.

    Generalised attacks does nothing to support your cause.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    People should remember Patterson is the revolting excuse for a human being that allowed the badger cull. now he want to build houses for his even more digusting rich friends in our countryside

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    102.Will Bungay -
    Genocide's been tried mate. It's always been quite unpleasant.

    In terms of population control China doesn't use genocide - just common sense.
    Unless we unite to reject the present status quo there will never be political change. We will continue to live as expendable drones - our environment won't get a look in.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    How this government treats its old people the young and disabled it is hardly likely to be bothered about the environment - it is about profit and getting as much as it can fill its boots before hopefully we get rid of it at the next election in 2015.

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    This is driven by a perceived shortage of housing, which could also be viewed as a surplus of population. Perhaps he should be looking at curbing population growth by removing any incentives to have more than 2 children. Curbing immigration would also be beneficial but would mean leaving the EU and I'm all for that. What we need is a stable population not an ever increasing one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Well, how about some immigrant offsetting, like one in, one out, then we wouldnt need to destroy ancient woodland & greenbelt land.

    Oh yes, I remember, immigration ONLY HAS POSITIVES, according to politicians & developers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    "Mr Paterson had long made it clear that his priority as environment secretary was growing the economy" REALLY????????? Then you need another job Mr Paterson, and as voters it is our priority to make sure you have one come May 2015.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    163. He lives in Shropshire, a county with significant amounts of ancient woodland. He just wants to tarmac over it.

    173. Badgers are protected but not endangered. The population is substantial. Same with deer. Population of deer is now so large in some areas culling is not preventing damage or weak animals in herds.

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    More rubbish from the right wing of our ruling cartel party.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    They should call Mr Paterson the Minister for Environmental Destruction, allowing for the Destruction of Ancient Woodland, overseeing massive Job Losses to the Environmental Agencies, DEFRA, all this coming after the fiasco of the Horse Meat scandal, also he is trying to get the Laws on Rights of Way changed, this man is out of his depth, he should resign, more Coalition Madness!

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Owen Paterson is a mouthpiece. A talking head. The man clearly has no idea what any of the words mean. Disgraceful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Stop these land grabbing money grubbing merchants at all costs. This CANNOT be allowed to happen, the whole country is turning into a concrete jungle.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    How can it be against the rules on a political HYS to say that there is little difference between Labour and Tory when you consider all the policies designed by one party but implemented by the other? How can a comment be referred for further consideration simply by saying the bedroom tax was a labour invention that the tories ran with?

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    there is no such thing as effective offsetting. Paterson already knows this and to have him as environment minister is a very sly move by the PM as it really does mean we have no environment minister (think greenbelt, fracking, climate change, HS2 etc)

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    This is the equivalent of saying that if you knock down a grade 1 listed building you'll build 100 modern flats in mitigation. It is impossible to offset ancient woodland without a time machine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    This is a classic "Tragedies of the Commons" problem. It is well known that unowned, government claimed/administered land is generally treated poorly and 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 would be protected private property :D


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