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Saved - for now. Hopwas Woods, Staffordshire. Photo: James Broad / Woodland Trust.
Saved - for now. Hopwas Woods, Staffordshire. Photo: James Broad / Woodland Trust.
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Ancient Woodland saved from quarrying

Oliver Tickell

31st October 2014

Lafarge Tarmac has withdrawn its bid to quarry Hopwas Woods following a huge local and national campaign. It's a victory to celebrate - but as the Woodland Trust points out, it also shows that none of our ancient woodland is truly safe from destructive development.

Ancient woods like Hopwas are nationally important and to destroy them would wipe out hundreds, if not thousands of years' worth of ecology, history and beauty that can never be replaced.

Lafarge Tarmac has asked Staffordshire County Council to withdraw Hopwas Woods from the Minerals Local Plan, which is currently under public consultation.

The company had originally proposed the 50 hectare (124 acre) ancient woodland near Tamworth for inclusion in the county's Minerals Local Plan as the 'preferred site' to extract 9 million tonnes of sand and gravel over a 13 year period.

But the proposal has caused massive local outrage and spurred campaigners into action. Austin Brady, Woodland Trust Director of Conservation, condemened LaFarge Tarmac for "attempting to reap huge profits from the destruction of ancient woodland - an irreplaceable habitat", adding:

"Ancient woods like Hopwas are nationally important and to destroy them would wipe out hundreds, if not thousands of years' worth of ecology, history and beauty that can never be replaced."

According to local sources, the wood dates back to the 11th Century, and is referred to in the Domesday book. It is also reported that a mysterious copper plate with magical symbols was discovered in the wood as well as an Egyptian figurine.

'We never really meant to destroy it anyway'

Withdrawing the proposal, Lafarge Tarmac's Director of Land and Natural Resources Stuart Wykes said: "We pride ourselves on working in harmony with local communities and want to do so at Hopwas.

"We want to work with local stakeholders on the stewardship of Hopwas Woods and we are willing to fund an independent study on its long term sustainability. This could include issues such as public access and environmental protection.

"We are committed to managing and enhancing the local habitat everywhere we operate. We did not have firm plans to develop Hopwas but intended to use the public consultation on the Minerals Local Plan as an opportunity for dialogue to agree a way forward."

The WT welcomed the move. "This result just shows what an impact people can have by standing up for woods and trees and making their views known", said Brady.

"We are delighted that the immediate threat to Hopwas Wood is over and that we now have time to engage in a more useful dialogue with Lafarge Tarmac to ensure this irreplaceable ancient woodland, part of which remains in the company's ownership, is properly managed."

Ancient Woodland needs effective protection

But he added that the serious threat to Hopwas Wood illustrated the risks to one of Britain's most precious wildlife habitats: "Protection for ancient woodland is currently weak and despite assurances from Government that this habitat is protected, a loophole remains in planning policy that puts it at severe risk."

National Planning Practice Guidance paragraph 118 states: "planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and the loss of aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss."

Yet in July 2013 Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, approved a planning application by Gallagher Aggregates Ltd for a 32 hectare quarry extension into the ancient Oaken Wood near Maidstone, after a public inquiry.

"The clock is still ticking on the 440 other ancient woods that remain at risk from the planning loophole we are working hard to close", said Brady.

"We urge everyone to add their voice to our national campaign and ensure that our ancient woodland will all be protected for generations to come in the face of ever increasing development threats. It's time for Government to start listening."

 


 

Action: email David Cameron to call for strong protection for ancient woodland.

Oliver Tickell edits The Ecologist.

 

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