Seeing the wood for the trees

22 Jan 2024

That ancient woodland is an irreplaceable habitat to be defended from loss or deterioration through development is made abundantly clear in the NPPF and standing advice from Natural England and the Forestry Commission.

What is not always transparent, however, is whether woodland qualifies as ancient or not in the first place. The official NPPF glossary definition is given as “An area that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600 AD” but there is no definitive designation or complete mapping of ancient woodland. The fact that woodland is not included on the Provisional Inventory of Ancient Woodland maps or Defra GIS mapping does not preclude it from being ancient woodland.

So, working out whether woodland is ancient or not can be a challenge and even the experts may not always get it right. This was the conclusion of an inspector (400-043-864) after studying the evidence in relation to a proposal to retain a forestry building erected in an area of cleared woodland lying between two known ancient woodland areas.

The council, on the advice of the Forestry Commission, considered the appeal site to be ancient woodland. The Forestry Commission had identified large numbers of ancient woodland species such as English Bluebells and a similar soil profile to the nearby ancient woodlands. The inspector, however, decided the absence of woodland on the site on historic ordnance survey maps used to undertake a local inventory was more significant and chimed with the official definition.  In his opinion, younger woodlands were capable of containing the species and characteristics identified by the Forestry Commission.

More information on this topic can be found in DCP 4.2554 Ancient Woodland.