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 286.

    What a fool. In a thousand years the offsetting will be worthwhile.
    Is nothing safe. The duty is to protect such spaces not to pander to developers. There are plenty of brownfield sites

  • rate this

    Comment number 285.

    Abject stupidity, Patterson. The sad thing is that such people have only one true motivation -and that's money. Everything is a potential earner.
    We need to appreciate that these people have no understanding or interest in the natural world except as a resource (exactly the same as their view of the population! ).
    Get active folks, and reject them for what they really are....

  • rate this

    Comment number 284.

    A total disgrace that any of our ancient woodland should be destroyed we have so little of it left. Do not trust any of the main parties with England's countryside & it is England's countryside being destroyed as it's a devolved matter for Scotland Wales & NI. What for big business greed & mass house building for mass immigration the establishment parties must be wiped out at the Euro elections.

  • rate this

    Comment number 283.

    We have the usual people on here trashing the government, which of course is easy to do when sat at home behind your computer screen and without the requirement to actually suggest what you might do differently.

  • rate this

    Comment number 282.

    Spend our way out of poverty with an economy based on lunatic house-prices which no-one can afford.
    Help the planet with nuclear waste + fracking, spread wealth by importing cheap labour to undermine workers life-conditions.
    Any of our political parties offers the package, and you get to brand-pick next year. Maybe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 281.

    Curbing population growth is Sustainable solution, not 'cashing in' unique parts of UK environment & pretending there can be compensating work done elsewhere.
    Forever seeking to "meet demand" will inevitably destroy the UK environment and is not a Sustainable solution.
    Managing & moderating demand is the responsible policy, but our "debt addicted politicians" are wedded to their "growth mindset".

  • rate this

    Comment number 280.

    "Biodiversity offsetting". Does this manglespeak really mean systematic vandalism of ancient (and usually protected) sites in search of profit? I like woodland as much as I like other protected places, cathedrals, castles etc. and they should have as much protection as them. Demolish the Tower of London to build yuppie flats? I should say so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 279.

    Infinite growth, finite planet - that may be the issue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 278.

    He can't do this. It's illegal under the Habitats directive. Yes there are allowances under certain circumstances where you can recreate a habitat as mitigation.
    You can't do that with Ancient woodland. The clue is in the word 'Ancient'. It would take longer than the life of the properties built for an ancient woodland to be created.
    Another pathetic idea from this Gov. They go from bad to worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 277.

    Our local council would tarmac over kew gardens if they had the chance. not one single member can trace their british lineage past their parent. All ancient woodland means to them is a wasted plot of land.

  • rate this

    Comment number 276.

    i would give the heritage and conservation industry NO public money. The uk is NOT a theme park. Its a living working space that has to make money.

    The heritage and conservation nonsense only exists because of public money. Let them get their own money so they can play at being 'wildlife rwanger'. No public money should go those scroungers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 275.

    Like the DIY sales pitch "WHEN ITS GONE ITS GONE"

  • Comment number 274.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 273.

    Politicians of all hues ( well they're mostly all the same colour now ) who know the cost of everything but the value of nothing

  • rate this

    Comment number 272.

    You really have to wonder at the fools we have in power, not just the latest lot but going right back.Not one of them seems to care about this country, I am not sure what their "vision" is but its turning this green and pleasant land into a warehouse for anyone outside of the country to control.thankfully I wont be here too much longer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 271.

    What does the minister not understand - it is protected becuase it is 'ancient' woodland. Planting trees elsewhere to offset the loss does not protect the new trees from future development. It simply makes it easier to destroy all woodland and trees.

    Politicians are a laughing stock of pubic opinion inc bankers, estate agents, train operators, utility co's, lawyers, dentists and tax inspectors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 270.

    Joni Mitchell Big Yellow Taxi comes to mind!

  • rate this

    Comment number 269.

    I suspect that Owen Paterson has found recently out that 'bullet dodging badgers' live in ancient woodlands?
    The tories really are a one trick pony;
    Hate the poor?.......make them homeless
    Hate badgers?........make them homeless

  • rate this

    Comment number 268.

    They wont be able to do it anyway - the People will not allow any significant 'development' (destruction) of ancient woodland. Could you imagine the opposition from locals and activists? It would be a waste of time any company attempting such a task, law or no law. Their bulldozers would be put out of action. The police would have a fight on their hands like no other. It would waste money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 267.

    '... wood (sic) we need to build on ancient woodland if we didn't have 25 million immigrants and their offspring in the country?'

    25 Million! A bit of an exaggeration even by UKIP standards isn't it?

    This is not about immigration so don't try to skew the debate.


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