Monday, 15 July 2013

When ancient woodland becomes the price for crushed aggregate

Woodland Trust
Following a public inquiry, permission has been given for an extension of Gallagher Aggregates' Hermitage Quarry in Kent which will lead to the loss of 32 hectares (80 acres) of ancient woodland at Oaken Wood. A statement from the Secretary of State said:
The very considerable need for both crushed rock aggregates and dimension stone, together with the eventual biodiversity improvements, and the ongoing socioeconomic benefits, would clearly outweigh the loss of the ancient woodland and the other adverse effects of the development in this case.
Is there no limit to the quality of landscape quarrying operators destroy for basic aggregate? Do they have no moral compass? No appreciation of the natural world? A little closer to home, how many people have gazed down at the beauty of Cheddar Gorge when flying into Bristol Airport, only to be shocked moments later by the scars of Hanson and Aggregate Industries quarries next door? Eric Pickles' decision shows continuing wanton destruction of irreplaceable parts of the landscape.

At Straitgate, the ancient woodlands in Cadhay Bog and Cadhay Wood are at risk from AI's proposals. A sand and gravel quarry would disturb the water supply to the woodlands, changing wet and boggy habitats, that, by the very nature of the topography, will have remained virtually undisturbed for possibly thousands of years.

The Oaken Wood decision will mean the direct loss of ancient woodland. Gallagher's boss dismisses any concern saying "everybody acknowledges that it is sweet chestnut coppice planted 150 years ago" and that "it will be replaced by native species woodland and there will be twice as much planted as lost". Which of course misses the point by a mile. The site has been wooded for more than 400 years. Ecosystems have developed in undisturbed soils over that time. Talk of "biodiversity improvements" is disingenuous. Ancient woodland is irreplaceable.

The Woodland Trust, which campaigned for two years with Kent Wildlife Trust and ‘Save Oaken Wood’, has called it "one of the UK's largest losses of ancient woodland in the last five years", and the "first real test of whether the Government’s recent planning reforms would offer sufficient protection to ancient woodland". The Trust's CE said:
This is a landmark decision, but for all the wrong reasons. This so-called ‘greenest Government ever’ stated that the new National Planning Policy Framework would give sufficient protection to irreplaceable habitats such as ancient woodland. It clearly does not – it seems no green space is safe.