The Woodland Trust has raised concerns that in some areas, local planners are still not safeguarding ancient woodland and trees in line with the changes made to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in July 2019.
Woodland Trust has been pushing for changes for 20 years
The Woodland Trust has been lobbying for over two decades to have these changes introduced, which provide the same protection for ancient woodland and trees that Listed buildings have always received.
Paragraph 175c1 of the NPPF states that when local planning authorities are determining applications, they should consider whether: “development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists”
‘Inappropriate’ developments damaging ancient woodland
The leading charity for conservation cites that over the last 12 months, ’Inappropriate developments, such as caravan parks or chicken and dairy farms, have been approved by a number of local authorities, resulting in unacceptable loss of or damage to ancient woodland.’
Local authorities ignoring the new NPPF changes
The Trust claims that despite its efforts to work closely with and support local planning authorities, some are not aware of the revised changes and guidance directions or choose to ‘suitably enforce them.’
Footnote 58 says the exceptions include nationally significant infrastructure projects, orders under the Transport and Works Act and hybrid bills, where the public benefit would clearly outweigh the loss or deterioration of habitat.
Abi Bunker, director of Conservation at the Woodland Trust said: “It is heartbreaking to see that one year on from the ground-breaking changes to the NPPF, there are still too many councils and developers across England that are not implementing the level of protection it affords to ancient woods and trees. We can and must do better than this.
“Some local authorities are doing this really well and should be applauded, but we need all planning authorities and developers to fully implement the changes and secure our remaining ancient trees and woodlands for future generations.”
The Woodland Trust in £1.5m collaboration with Natural England
The Woodland Trust was awarded £210,000 from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) as part of a £1.5 million collaboration with Natural England to update the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI) to make sure the legislation works properly.
At this stage, the Woodland Trust has written to the head of local authorities across England and enclosing a copy of its revised Planners’ Manual. The document sets out good practice and policy making to aid local authorities when making key decisions for woods and trees.