There was almost unanimous community opposition to the proposal to build a barn at the head of the iconic and unspoiled Blanksmill Creek, in the heart of the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). We are delighted that the contentious Application has been withdrawn.
But there is a sting in the ‘tail’. The Applicant is now seeking planning permission for ‘general purpose agricultural building’ a short distance away from the creek, but again, in a highly visible location next to Ilton Copse (potentially Ancient Woodland), much of which was recently felled by the Applicant. The SHDC Planning Officer Amanda Burden is currently considering the application, which can be see on the Council’s Planning File here
A Highly Protected area
Surprisingly, it seemed the Applicant was not fully aware that development is either prohibited or very highly restricted in the nationally protected landscape areas surrounding the proposed site.
Kate Tobin, Local Partnership Advisor at the Forestry Commission, South West Area Team has written to Bryony Hanlon, detailing the views of the Commission. Kate has also outlined the legislation and Government Guidance that protects our woodlands.
For all those wishing to help look after the landscape in the South Hams (and especially the South Devon AONB), the letter is both informative and a very helpful reference summary of Government policy on ancient woodland and of the Importance and Designation of Ancient and Native Woodland.
31 July 202Dear Ms Hanlon,
Planning Application for Agricultural Building, Land at SX 726 406 (near Ilton Copse)
Thank you for seeking the Forestry Commission’s advice about the impacts that this application may have on adjacent woodland. Although the adjacent woodland is not currently designated as ancient woodland, it seems possible that it may be, given its shape and its presence on historic maps. Therefore, we are giving our comments in the context of standing advice on ancient woodland published jointly by the Forestry Commission and Natural England.
As a non-statutory consultee, the Forestry Commission is pleased to provide you with the attached information that may be helpful when you consider the application:
• Details of Government Policy relating to ancient woodland
• Information on the importance and designation of ancient woodland
Ancient woodlands are irreplaceable. They have great value because they have a long history of woodland cover, with many features remaining undisturbed. This applies equally to Ancient Semi Natural Woodland (ASNW) and Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).
It is Government policy to refuse development that will result in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats including ancient woodland, unless “there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists” (National Planning Policy Framework paragraph 175).
We also particularly refer you to further technical information set out in Natural England and Forestry Commission’s Standing Advice on Ancient Woodland – plus supporting Assessment Guide and Case Decisions.
As a Non-Ministerial Government Department, we provide no opinion supporting or objecting to an application. Rather we comment on the potential impact that the proposed development would have on the woodland.
The following comments are based upon information available to us
through a site visit undertaken by a staff member, a desk study of the case, including the Ancient Woodland Inventory (maintained by Natural England), which can be viewed on the MAGIC Map Browser, and our general local knowledge of the area.
Comments specific to this application.
An alleged illegal felling report for the woodland adjacent to the proposed agricultural building was received at the end of March and our staff visited some weeks later, due to lockdown restrictions.
Felling and digging work had occurred in the woodland. Due to the size of the trees felled and lack of evidence on site, the volume felled was judged to be on the margin of licensable volumes.
We understand that the owner has confirmed their intention to allow the trees and vegetation to grow back and, notwithstanding the disturbance to soils, our staff have seen the evidence that regrowth is occurring. Therefore, we do not currently anticipate taking this any further using our powers under the Forestry Act.
The owner and agent have been made aware of the need to apply for a licence for any more felling work in the copse over the thresholds set out in the felling regulations.
Questions remain around the purpose and permissions relating to the digging and levelling within the woodland but, these activities are not covered by the Forestry Act so our staff have referred this question back to the Local Planning Authority.
We note that the new application states:
“The proposed site benefits from an existing hedgerow boundary to the east and west and an existing copse to the south, which will be retained and enhanced. The north, east and west sides will be bordered with a Devon hedge bank and standard trees which will provide additional landscaping to the site as well as creating a definitive boundary for the new yard. It is also proposed to plant woodland on the east and west sides of the new site which will link the existing copse/woodland and provide additional screening to the site.”
We welcome new planting to expand the woodland and the restoration and replanting of the hedgebank nearby. Expanding the woodland and linking it to other hedges and small woods in the area would be beneficial for wildlife. However, we remain concerned about the digging and groundworks that have taken place within the woodland.
We can see that there is potential for this woodland to be ancient due to its shape and historic maps recording its presence; the ground flora is disturbed so less indicative. This woodland may be identified during the national review of the Ancient Woodland Inventory which is currently taking place and therefore it is possible that it will be added to the register in the future. To determine the woodland’s status, we would recommend that the local planning authority seeks the advice of Natural England and/or the Devon Biodiversity Records Centre, who are overseeing a pilot project to map ancient woodlands in Devon missed off the current inventory.
We hope these comments are helpful to you. If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact me.
Local Partnership Advisor Forestry Commission, South West Area Team
A summary of Government policy on ancient woodland
Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 (published October 2006).
Section 40 – “Every public authority must, in exercising its functions, have regard, so far as is consistent with the proper exercise of those functions, to the purpose of conserving biodiversity”.
National Planning Policy Framework (published July 2018).
Paragraph 175 – “development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats (such as ancient woodland and ancient or veteran trees) should be refused, unless there are wholly exceptional reasons and a suitable compensation strategy exists”.
National Planning Practice Guidance – Natural Environment Guidance.
(published March 2014)
This Guidance supports the implementation and interpretation of the National Planning Policy Framework. This section outlines the Forestry Commission’s role as a non-statutory consultee on “development proposals that contain or are likely to affect Ancient Semi-Natural woodlands or Plantations on Ancient Woodlands Sites (PAWS) (as defined and recorded in Natural England’s Ancient Woodland Inventory), including proposals where any part of the development site is within 500 metres of an ancient semi-natural woodland or ancient replanted woodland, and where the development would involve erecting new buildings, or extending the footprint of existing buildings” It also notes that ancient woodland is an irreplaceable habitat, and that, in planning decisions, Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS) should be treated equally in terms of the protection afforded to ancient woodland in the National Planning Policy Framework. It highlights the Ancient Woodland Inventory as a way to find out if a woodland is ancient.
The UK Forestry Standard (4th edition published August 2017).
Page 23: “Areas of woodland are material considerations in the planning process and may be protected in local authority Area Plans. These plans pay particular attention to woods listed on the Ancient Woodland Inventory and areas identified as Sites of Local Nature Conservation Importance SLNCIs)”.
Keepers of Time – A Statement of Policy for England’s Ancient and NativeWoodland (published June 2005).
Page 10 “The existing area of ancient woodland should be maintained and there should be a net increase in the area of native woodland”.
Natural Environment White Paper “The Natural Choice” (published June 2011)
Paragraph 2.53 – This has a “renewed commitment to conserving and restoring ancient woodlands”.
Paragraph 2.56 – “The Government is committed to providing appropriate protection to ancient woodlands and to more restoration of plantations on ancient woodland sites”.
Standing Advice for Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees (first published
October 2014, revised November 2018)
This advice, issued jointly by Natural England and the Forestry Commission, is a material consideration for planning decisions across England. It explains the definition of ancient woodland, its importance, ways to identify it and the policies that are relevant to it. The Standing Advice refers to an Assessment Guide. This guide sets out a series of questions to help planners assess the impact of the proposed development on the ancient woodland.
(published August 2011).
Paragraph 2.16 – Further commitments to protect ancient woodland and to continue restoration of Plantations on Ancient Woodland Sites (PAWS).
Importance and Designation of Ancient and Naive Woodland
Ancient Semi Natural Woodland (ASNW)
Woodland composed of mainly native trees and shrubs derived from natural seedfall or coppice rather than from planting, and known to be continuously present on the site since at least AD 1600. Ancient Woodland sites are shown on Natural England’s Inventory of Ancient Woodland.
Plantations on Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS)
Woodlands derived from past planting, but on sites known to be continuously wooded in one form or another since at least AD 1600. They can be replanted with conifer and broadleaved trees and can retain ancient woodland features, such as undisturbed soil, ground flora and fungi. Very old PAWS composed of native species can have characteristics of ASNW. Ancient Woodland sites (including PAWS) are on Natural England’s Inventory of Ancient Woodland.
Other Semi-Natural Woodland (OSNW)
Woodland which has arisen since AD 1600, is derived from natural seedfall planting and consists of at least 80% locally native trees and shrubs (i.e., species historically found in England that would arise naturally on the site). Sometimes known as ‘recent semi-natural woodland’.
Other woodlands may have developed considerable ecological value, especially if they have been established on cultivated land or been present for many decades.
Information Tools – The Ancient Woodland Inventory
This is described as provisional because new information may become available that shows that woods not on the inventory are likely to be ancient or, occasionally, vice versa. In addition, ancient woods less than two hectares or open woodland such as ancient wood-pasture sites were generally, not included on the inventories. For more technical detail see Natural England’s Ancient Woodland Inventory. Inspection may determine that other areas qualify.
As an example of further information becoming available, Wealden District Council, in partnership with the Forestry Commission, Countryside Agency, the Woodland Trust and the High Weald AONB revised the inventory in their district, including areas under 2ha. Some other local authorities have taken this approach.
Felling Licences – Under the Forestry Act (1967) a Felling Licence is required for felling more than 5 cubic metres per calendar quarter. Failure to obtain a licence may lead to prosecution and the issue of a restocking notice.
Environmental Impact Assessment – Under the Environmental Impact Assessment (Forestry) (England and Wales) Regulations 1999, as amended, deforestation which is likely to have a significant impact on the environment may also require formal consent from the Forestry Commission.
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