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 466.

    No, we do not need to build, build, build! The problem is an ever increasing population and that is what we should be tackling right now. ...not the politically correct approach of how we satisfy ever increasing demands from an ever increasing population. One day, our politicians and the populations at large will "get this" and fix the root cause of a housing shortage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 465.

    just another excuse to make money and what cost?

  • rate this

    Comment number 464.

    Well woods are brown so presumably this is what developers mean when they say they will develop brownfield sites

    As England becomes ever more over crowded it is vital we protect our ancient woodlands which form part of English national identity featuring in so many traditional myths and legends.

    Even if new woods are planted it will takes decades if not centuries to replace them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 463.

    Ancient woodland is woodland that has been continuously used as woodland since 1600AD. Do you need to know anything else than that to know this is an idiots idea and anyone coming up with it should be removed from any position of influence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 462.

    It is 100% impossible to grow UK economy without creating further damage/destruction of various kinds.

    Offsetting is pure deceit.

    One cannot destroy mature woodland & wildlife eco systems/habitats & replace them with twigs 50 miles away that need 50/100+ years to grow & pretend they are suitable replacement.

    The woodlands/habitats in that development area are 100% DESTROYED

  • rate this

    Comment number 461.

    Would it be too much to ask who is actually going to buy these houses ?

    Immigrants in low paid, low skilled jobs ? How are they ever going to get mortgages ?

    Young people in low paid jobs ? How are they going to get a mortgage ?

    The minute supply overtakes demand the price falls in anything, so more houses, less demand, house prices tumble. Not good for an economy secured on property

  • rate this

    Comment number 460.

    Why is it that almost everything the Tory party says or does illogical and not what the public wan? I'm beginning to think it just human form of the 1% baiting the 99% for kicks. These idiots will sell every blade of grass to the highest foreign bidder provided they are living in their nice London town house with a place in the country too. Roll on 2015...

  • rate this

    Comment number 459.

    Just wish one of them would say ""Get ORF of my land "".....! The reason for any of this ??? so the greedy SOBs can make even more the expense of the change there then !!!!!!! We could always get Lizzy and the family out planting a few more trees..They must be the best paid tree planters in the Country !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 458.

    This lot weren't even elected into government in the traditional sense. Any candidate waving this Owen Paterson tosh as part of their manifesto would never ever be elected. They would stand a far better chance of being lynched such is the Hooray Henry madness, greed, & stupefying arrogance behind it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 457.

    This suggestion is equivalent to bulldozing the Palace of Westminster and putting the MPs in Portakabins. Anyone too ignorant to see that for themselves should not be a Minister for Environment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 456.

    Wonder how many sites are on the route of HS2?
    Perhaps part of the process they forgot to account for?
    How much would it add to the cost of HS2?
    Have to considered the costs of making this happen? Dealing with protesters? Dealing with court cases, they'll happen
    Another idea from the Gov's BS sessions.
    Most out of touch Gov ever

  • rate this

    Comment number 455.

    1 Hour ago

    The definition of ancient woodland in Britain is land that has been continuously wooded since 1600. That's not even 500 years.
    There is no true 'ancient' woodland in the UK (or even most of Europe).


    The palace of westminster as we know it is only 174 years old. Lets trash that and build new homes. Kill two birds with one stone. Imbiciles.

  • rate this

    Comment number 454.

    How did Paterson become Environment Secretary? With every asinine comment he makes or policy he introduces he makes it clear he has no grasp what environment or ecology actually means. Profit above all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 453.

    419 madharry
    How can you purchase new land that is "Ancient woodland"to plant a "new"woodland in that will be extremely remote unlike the ones they target££££
    So,less quality of life and air for all the new home owners past,present,and future!

  • rate this

    Comment number 452.

    It is well known that mature woodland areas, reduce peak surface water runoff, and thereby reducing flooding in those catchments. Aside from badger culling, GM, fracking, and increased flood risk, what has this Minister ever done for us?

  • rate this

    Comment number 451.

    An ill-thought out response to the real problem of over-population. If completed the unforeseen problems this will create will occur.

    Government, of what ever persuasion, need to address key root issues not paper over the cracks.

    Ancient woodlands provide diversity & balance to a crowded island. It needs protecting in its original form not 'test tube' replication in the hope that will suffice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 450.

    Why do they not just come out and explain the reasons, the land which these 'ancient' woods etc are on are the best lands for building, not the marsh and low lands we currently build on.

    If we want more development we will have to sacrifice precious, beautiful landscape (along with its wildlife)
    We need population controls not just immigration

    We are out growing this planet at a stupid rate

  • rate this

    Comment number 449.

    Ancient woodland is generally a woodland that has been in existence since 1600 and the Environment Secretary thinks it will be ok to forfeit this for development?

    Yes we need to build due to population demands, why not use some of the brownfield eyesore sites before destroying our heritage?

    Or curb immigration and birth rates to curb population growth before we turn the UK into an urban jungle!

  • rate this

    Comment number 448.

    By this argument we could get rid of a few politicians if we promised to grow a few more else where.

  • rate this

    Comment number 447.

    Accurate reporting!

    "Mr Paterson had long made it clear that his priority as environment secretary was growing the economy..."


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