Tag Archives: ancient woodland

We need a tree strategy

At the moment in the UK, we are cutting down irreplaceable ancient woodland to build a high-speed railway. There are people who feel that the railway will deliver environmental benefits and that this means it is worth cutting down the trees for. There are people (me amongst them) who are deeply uneasy about the idea of the ends justifying the means in this way. The argument that we can and should trash wild places and unique habitats to save the greater whole is, I think, deeply suspect. It ignores the importance of specific places, focuses on human benefits and it turns care for wild things into a numbers game. And numbers are so easily manipulated to tell whatever story suits you.

Recently the PM announced that there are no trees in the UK over 200 years old. This staggering ignorance only increases the danger to our ancient woodland. If decisions about national projects and the spending of public money are going to be made on the basis of what uninformed people imagine is going on… we’re in trouble.

Ancient woodland is real. Trees over 200 years old are very real. You can get involved with The Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Inventory here – https://ati.woodlandtrust.org.uk/

The National Trust has a page on our most ancient trees – https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/enter-a-world-of-ancient-trees

Lack of access to green space has been a real issue during lockdown. The evidence for the impact of trees on mental health, and the necessity of green space for exercise and physical wellbeing, exists. It’s not a controversial subject. However, we’re short of trees, short of urban trees and short of access to trees and this needs to change.

A strong England Tree Strategy is crucial. It is the plan that will determine what the Government does to protect, plant and restore woods and trees for years to come. A plan informed by reality rather than the whims of those in power, would be a great help.

There is a DEFRA consultation underway. It is split into four key sections and below is some guidance to help people write their own personalised responses.

*   expanding woodland cover: target of 18,000 ha of new native woodland.

*   protecting existing trees and woods: at least 75% of native woods need to be in either good condition or improving for nature by 2030.

*   connecting trees with people: it needs to be mandatory for every local authority to have its own tree strategy.

*   trees as part of the economy: ensure that all trees bought with public money are UK sourced and grown.

You can share your thoughts here – http://www.woodlandtru.st/x5nAg


Seeing the trees as well as the wood

There’s good news and frustrating news on the tree protection front as I write this. After years of pressure and campaigning, the government is finally, finally (we hope) going to improve protection for ancient woodland in the National Planning Policy Framework. This will take out the loopholes that were allowing developers to destroy ancient woodland.

The bad news is that at the moment, the document isn’t recognising ancient trees and veteran trees, and this needs fixing. Ancient trees appearing as single features in our landscapes have massive environmental and heritage value. And also, they are ancient trees, and writing this blog primarily to Pagans, I don’t think I need to make any kind of heritage case to you for ancient trees.

Trees are amazing habitats themselves, and many insects can be quite tree-specific in their preferences. I’ve been on night-time moth hunts run by local environmentalists, where I saw firsthand how the presence of an unusual tree means the presence of unusual moths. I’ve also been into young woodlands that have been allowed to grow up, or been planted around existing ancient trees. I know where there are ancient trees standing in hedgerows, and alone in fields, and they can be found in urban environments, too. Ancient trees exist outside of ancient woodlands, and they need protecting too.

At this stage, it’s really important to have public support for the changes. You can bet that developers will be lobbying until the very end, trying to make it easier to cut down anything that gets in their way. So, if you’re in the UK, do please take a moment and comment, and encourage the government not only to stick to what they’ve said over protecting ancient woodland, but also to get protection in place for standalone ancient and veteran trees. Go here to have your say – http://bit.ly/ProtectAncients

Protecting ancient trees

Right now in the UK, the government is considering a change to the law that would see ancient woodland and aged and veteran trees added to the list of the nation’s assets that should be explicitly protected from development. You’d be forgiven for thinking that these unique and precious woodlands would already be protected, but they aren’t, and there’s been a dramatic increase in threatened loss of ancient woodland from development in recent years. Four hundred woods in England are under threat as I write this, which is a devastating number.

 Any loss of ancient woodland or aged and veteran trees should be viewed as unacceptable, to my mind. This is not an infinite resource and we simply can’t replace it or offset the loss. Planting some new trees some other place does not offset what’s destroyed when we sacrifice ancient woodland in the name of profit. The subtle interplay of landscape and trees, plants and soil, and all the other inhabitants of ancient woodland can’t be magically re-created. We need to recognise the cultural and historical value of ancient woodlands as ‘heritage assets’.  I’d go further and say that we need to stop assuming that every other living thing on this planet is fair game for death and exploitation if someone can make a fast buck out of it.

If you find this blog post before the 2nd May 2017, you can participate in the consultation


Or email your MP.

 We need a culture shift, internationally. We need to stop seeing everything in terms of human profit and human loss – where loss and profit are purely economic words. If we could see loss of habitat and loss of beauty as just as important, even, I dare to venture more important than loss of money, we’d be better citizens of the world. If we could collectively see the gains to be had by protecting biodiversity, that would be good. We need to wake up to the fact that the human-made built environment is not our natural habitat and makes us ill. We need trees, and trees urgently need us to realise this.

Wildlife encounters

I regularly walk a route that takes me down a cycle path and through a narrow strip of woods. Like many of the cycle paths round here, it’s a former train line, so the trees and undergrowth have probably reasserted themselves. The size of the trees suggests they are largely the same age, and while my tree-aging skills are not what they could be, I think 30-50 is probable. Interestingly though, the undergrowth includes a lot of the plant types you’d expect to see in ancient woodland. There’s far more to woodland than just the trees, and there’s estimated to be a fifty year window after the trees go in which you have a fighting chance of restoring the diversity of ancient woodland.

So I have this corridor of wood where the trees are clearly not ancient, but the woodland effectively is. Even though it is a very small wood, it is home to at least three deer. I only ever see them in ones or twos, but having seen two females together recently and a male on his own, three at least. I watch other path users pass by without registering their presence. The deer are wary, but not fearful, so on a number of occasions I’ve been able to stop a matter of yards away, and make eye contact with them, and have a few moments.

Today walking down the towpath (strip of path alongside a canal, originally for the men or horses who were pulling the first boats at the very beginning of the industrial revolution) I met a frog. It was a tiny frog, no bigger than a fingertip, and I stopped to ush it out of the path and into the safety of the undergrowth.

I have a knack for finding the wildlife. It’s not about keen eyesight. Today’s frog was no bigger than the many small stones on the path, and wasn’t moving. I had a moment of awareness and doubled back to check. Only when I bent right down could I make out the legs. I often know the deer are around before I see them. It is not something I can easily explain, but it makes for reliably interesting walks.