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What is ancient woodland?

Ancient woodland in England and Wales is defined as an area that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600 AD, since 1750 in Scotland and since 1830 in Northern Ireland.

It is divided into ‘ancient semi-natural woodland’ and ‘plantations on ancient woodland sites’. Both types of stand are classed as ancient woods, which together cover approximately 2% of the UK’s land mass.

Ancient woodlands are valued for both their cultural and environmental contributions to the English landscape. Typically ancient woodlands have greater biodiversity than more recently established woodlands and are exceptionally rich in wildlife, including many rare species and habitats.

How is ancient woodland protected?

The categorisation of land as an ancient woodland does not itself provide any statutory protection. However, some features in ancient woods are protected and sites can also be designated for their wildlife value.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) also indicates ancient woodland should be a planning consideration (para 118) and Natural England provides Standing Advice to local authorities on ancient woodland which they have to take into account in their planning decisions. Despite these protections, the Woodland Trust have been campaigning for the Government to amend its planning policy to provide stronger, explicit protection for ancient woodland.

What are the threats to ancient woodland?

There are concerns that High Speed 2 (HS2) will have damaging impact on ancient woodland, through both direct loss and damage as well as indirect effects, such as vibration, light disturbance, associated with the construction and the high speed trains themselves. The Woodland Trust have estimated that the first phase of HS2 will lead to direct loss to 39 ancient woods, damage to 23 ancient woods with a further 8 ancient trees threatened.

In addition, the Woodland Trust and the last Communities and Local Government Committee called for the Government to amend its planning policy to provide stronger, explicit protection for ancient woodland. The coalition Government rejected this announcement.

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