Groundbreaking changes to planning law designed to protect ancient woodlands are not being acted upon by all local councils, the Woodland Trust has said.
Ancient woodlands contribute to biodiversity essential to all life – yet 441 ancient woods are under threat in England from live planning applications.
This is down by 25% from last year but there is still a long way to go, the Woodland Trust argued. It added that councils were not being stringent enough with applications.
The new rules gave ancient woodlands the same protection as listed buildings. Changes to the National Planning Policy Framework for England (NPPF) mean applications for development resulting in loss or damage to ancient woods or ancient and veteran trees must be refused unless they are 'wholly exceptional'.
However, the Woodland Trust said inappropriate developments such as caravan parks and chicken and dairy farms had been given the green light by councils resulting in unacceptable loss or damage.
Abi Bunker, the Woodland Trust’s director of conservation, 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.”
The trust has written to local authority heads of planning across England, also enclosing a copy of its revised planners' manual, to help local authorities to adopt good practice and sound policy around woods and trees policy.
Bunker added: "The trust and its supporters have worked tirelessly over the last decade to protect these precious woodland habitats, including campaigning for this vital update to national policy. We have also worked with others to develop guidance and support to help local planners to implement it well.
"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 trust was recently awarded £210,000 from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as part of a £1.5 million collaboration with Natural England to update the Ancient Woodland Inventory (AWI). The AWI is a map-based record of around 52,000 ancient woodlands.