Woodland Trust accuses Highways England of freewheeling to environmental failure

By agency reporter
December 15, 2018

Highways England is freewheeling to environmental failure if it neglects the protection of ancient woodland when designing the Lower Thames Crossing.

The Woodland Trust anticipates eight areas of the rare habitat will be threatened with direct loss or damage, three of which are Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

A further five face deterioration from the indirect damage caused by noise, vibration, pollution and lighting while ten standalone veteran trees are within or adjacent to the development boundary of the project linking Kent to Essex and therefore at risk.

Highways England’s environmental report confirms that 54 hectares of ancient woodland fall within the development boundary or 50 metre buffer.

Woodland Trust campaigner Jack Taylor said: “This scheme will be the road to ruin for ancient woodland. The potential impacts of the preferred route are extremely worrying.

“We have regularly found the protection of ancient woodland to be an uphill struggle with Highways England. Despite their supposed commitment to the environment, and despite regular meetings with them that appeared to signal progress, we are disappointed that they have not given more serious consideration to protecting this irreplaceable habitat from damage and loss.

“We need them to step up and listen to concerns for the ancient woods and veteran trees of Essex and Kent. Many are prime examples and are specially protected in recognition of their value and uniqueness. They are living descendants from Britain’s prehistory and home to some of our rarest and most iconic species, from bluebells to dormice to woodpeckers. They deserve our protection.”

Highways England is currently consulting on its chosen route. Members of the public have until 20 December to make their views known and can do so via www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/campaigns

Mr Taylor added: “We want our supporters to add their voice to ours. We need to ensure Highways England has the protection of ancient woodland and veteran trees at the forefront of their minds during the design and planning process.”

Ancient woodland cover stands at just two per cent in the UK. Ancient woods are defined as land that has been continuously wooded since 1600 which makes them irreplaceable. Many are often centuries older.

The continuity of conditions over hundreds, maybe thousands, of years has led to the development of complex and valuable ecological communities. From deep underground in the soils, through the forest floor, the numerous vegetative layers through to above the tree canopy, the many different species associated with these habitats interact with each other to create one of the most dynamic and wildlife rich ecosystems in the UK.

* The Woodland Trust https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/

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