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 1306.

    "highly unlikely"

    When the profits that can be made directly or indirectly by our supporters more than outweigh any potential ire directed at us by the Hoi polloi or can be redirected by kicking the poor...

  • rate this

    Comment number 1305.

    Its very much like that old saying
    "You don't know what you have until its gone"

    You can't re-create ancient woodlands by planting trees in a different location, no matter the amount of trees, its not the same

    What it comes down to is how much you love your country
    and whether you believe it should be preserved for future generations
    or taken for everything it has

  • rate this

    Comment number 1304.

    The "NEW FORREST" is hundreds of years old. What does this idiot not understand???

    We must protect our green and pleasant land. Build on brownfield sites only and limit immigration.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1303.

    'The Tragedy of the Commons' keeps getting aired by some as a justification for privatising the natural environment, this is a distortion of history. Those who mismanaged land in the past were often poor and uneducated, without the knowledge or means to look after the land. We don't need business to get their clutches on the environment thanks,we peasants can manage now!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1302.

    It's only a few trees, humans have to take priority.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1301.

    The clue is in the word "ancient". These are Eco systems that have evolved over time. Time that is not measured in the life of a Parliament. It is typical of politicians to only see things in the immediate, they have no depth to their thinking. It would be so refreshing to have politicians who could take a step back and take a long term view. Developers contribute to Tory funds, woodlands do not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1300.

    Geraint Pillock
    2 Minutes ago

    Does anybody know how a developer with a brown envelope is democratic?


    If you have enough money even democracy can be bought, ask any lobbyist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1299.

    Does Paterson understand the word "ancient"? If not, someone please send him a dictionary - perhaps he'll (hopefully) comprehend that buying 10,000 trees from Homebase & plonking them in lovely rows next the latest estate of rabbit hutches will NOT replace what was destroyed - at least not for centuries!

    But hey, politicians only comprehend the world within 5 miles of Westminster - he's an IDIOT!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1298.

    "highly unlikely" is not a good enough statement , anything less that 100% certain is a con waiting to happen .

    Our Government is about as green and honest as Tepco was to Japan post nuclear disaster . They should all hang ... err their heads in shame

  • rate this

    Comment number 1297.

    Who are we building all these new houses for.We are destroying our land so people from other countries have somewhere to live.Its crazy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1296.

    "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"

    The problem is these woods are not truly owned by anyone, with rights enforceable against others. If government relinquished claims to what is not its, we could buy and protect these venerable woods. Clearly, the state is corrupt steward.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1295.

    For every action there is a reaction...I wonder what Mother Nature is up to? Take this woodland and add it to all the other stupidity of mankind ... I think we are overdue and unlike governments, she doesn't pick favourites.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1294.

    Just how pathetic is it that any unholy alliance of enviro-fascists, petty bureaucrats and NIMBYs can prevent private enterprise from meeting the market need for housing ... because of few old trees?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1293.

    Owen Paterson is my local MP and he is a total and utter waste of space. An Environmental Secretary who's only interest in the environment is what money can be squeeze from it. Surely he'll be ousted soon.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1292.

    Faith Misplaced @ 1284:
    "Hmm, sorry, in 1279 below I meant to say it was comment 1259. (Sometimes the BBC links don't work, but just try again later)."

    It's easier to show the link using both name and ID.

    You are referring to Mathew Lemon @ 1259.

    "New mandate to help the Tories.

    No building on green belt

    No GM for at least 20 years

    Immediate reduction in net immigration

    Cancel HS2 …etc"

  • rate this

    Comment number 1291.

    Ancient woodland should be left as it is! What we should be doing is developing brownfield sites AND planting about 10 million trees a year to replace the historic ancient woodland we have already wiped out. How can we say to countries like Brazil 'stop deforestation', when we can't practice what we preach?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1290.

    1237. paulmerhaba
    Your back yard was built on the site of ancient,ancient woodland, as was mine. Feel proud?
    My house was built on a field which may have been woodland hundreds if not thousands of years ago, However, we can hope to restore and make space for nature which is essential for life,not destroy ever more of it on the altar of GDP growth,which doesn't guarantee happiness.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1289.

    Pity the headline picture showed an Adonis Blue butterfly which is a downland species and not found in woodlands.

    Do your research properly BBC.and your articles will have greater credibility - or at least get them checked by someone who knows (I volunteer for anything to do with butterflies).

  • Comment number 1288.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1287.

    Apart from a frightening view of what really matters in life the thing that has really annoyed me about this saga is just how arrogant this government is,,,,,Who do they think they are to sell historic sites.

    But come nearer election time just watch them start groveling again.


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