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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  • Comment number 1526.

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

  • Comment number 1525.

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

  • Comment number 1524.

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

  • Comment number 1523.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1522.

    We do not need to build more houses.
    We need to rennovate the surplus stock of empty housing we already have.

    For affordable housing we need to use the empty offices in industrial estates - easily converted into flats - they have all the 21st century infrastructure already in place.

    Destroy the environment to build more houses so the rich can accuire a 4th or 5th home?

    I don't think so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1521.

    "What is common to many is least taken care of, for all men have greater regard for what is their own than what they possess in common with others"

    Until repatriate our powers of ownership and demand property rights be inviolable, allowing private ownership and protection of woods, our environment will languish under MPs who parcel off what is not theirs to their political benefactors.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1520.

    1514.Anne Alexander
    "However much we want to help people, we have to face the fact that land is limited"

    If that is the case, and it clearly is, then you have to restrict the numbers coming in.
    Once they are here, we can not refuse to house our people. We have to do it in the most environmentally friendly, sustainable way, but we have to face the reality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1519.

    1511 mayfield
    Where I live, the Labour govt of the Sixties encouraged the development of housing as an over-spill town for London. We got the people and we got houses which were quickly built to a fairly poor standard initially. We got very little additional work for them - same old, same old!
    1516 Oakington has both I believe - not looked lately - but they're pushing housing there.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1518.

    @1515 Sally

    Not lazy would be pointless to even try to discuss a topic with you. It would be like trying to pour the ocean through a key hole.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1517.

    Sally the Roth @ 1506:
    "The Woodland Trust is a private organisation, with no laws in its specific favour"

    How is that supportive of a claim its not 'Collectivism'?

    Straw man comment.

    The Woodland Trust:
    "We aim to create new native woodland with the help of communities, schools, organisations and individuals."


    Surely a 'collective'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1516.

    @1513. nagivatorjan

    So Oakington is no longer an internment camp?

    The first operational unit I served at was there before the Army moved out

  • Comment number 1515.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1514.

    How can new trees defend our land against floods and storms as ancient woodlands can? The last thing we need now is a weakening of natural defences! What is the point of building more homes, at such desperate cost, when it means that so many will become uninhabitable? However much we want to help people, we have to face the fact that land is limited.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1513.

    1504 bangers64
    Well aware of that - posted the same about 5 hours ago :) However, there are quite a few near where I live which ARE being converted to towns). Oakington and Sculthorpe are going for housing, Alconbury is currently warehousing but might be turned into housing. The army have taken over at Cottesmore and there are all sorts of things going on at Wittering where they can't build!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1512.

    Memories are short in this short-term-tory-world. Tories floated the idea of selling off our ancient woodlands to developers several years ago - now they're at it again! Is it a case of clinical dementia? a disease some of their youngsters seem to suffer from too early?

    IDS for Leader! Now there goes a Man with Guts!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1511.


    Yes, that's a problem everywhere. They don't meet the sustainability criteria. But encouraging business isn't easy either. In truth we have a major housing crisis ahead and I'm not sure that it is appreciated how serious it will be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1510.

    David Cameron: "this is the greenest government ever"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1509.

    Copied from their website:

    The Woodland Trust is a charity registered in England (No. 294344) and in Scotland (No. SC038885).

  • rate this

    Comment number 1508.

    We're desperate to build new houses because Labour imported three million people to rub the Tories nose in multiculturalism. Though Gordo could claim GDP was expanding GDP per head of population hardly changed while Labour was in power.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1507.

    @1495Sally the Rothbardian
    "OK, you're a collectivist, and Aristotle @1480 is wrong."

    You say 'collectivist' with such disdain, Sally. Are you part of the 99% or of the 1% ?
    And yes, Aristotle was wrong, no big deal really, he lived a long time ago and could not benefit from more modern philosophical approaches.
    Don't be silly, Sally.
    Time to stop the Rotbottomish crud, now.


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