Another day – another post about Owen Paterson. This is the Environment minister’s weekend in the sun – flooding, storms, two mentions on Leeds NW Labour’s website. . . .IMG_6187

But really – from the Government who gave you the Fiasco of the Forests, and the minister who complained about cheating badgers, we now get – the grubbing up of Ancient Woodland.
It’s too much to resist.
It’s a – bad – joke: Environment minister backs destruction of natural resource. Perhaps the trees had better look to moving the goal posts. Bring back the Ents.

Except that it’s much more serious than that. It’s indicative of this Government’s whole attitude to the Environment and Planning. So it matters here in Leeds NW – in all sorts of ways.

What has Owen Paterson said?
According to BBC news

‘Developers could be allowed to destroy ancient woodland if they agreed to plant many more trees elsewhere, the environment secretary has suggested.
Owen Paterson told the Times “biodiversity offsetting” could give “a better environment over the long term”.

Let’s start by getting some things clear. What are Ancient Woodlands?
According to Wikipedia
‘Ancient woodland is a term used in the United Kingdom to refer specifically to woodland that has existed continuously since 1600 or before in England and Wales (or 1750 in Scotland). . .
For many species of animal and plant, ancient woodland sites provide the sole habitat, and for many others, conditions on these sites are much more suitable than those on other sites. Ancient woodland in the UK, like rainforest in the tropics, is home to rare and threatened species, more than any other UK habitat. For these reasons ancient woodland is often described as an irreplaceable resource, or ‘critical natural capital’.’

The Forestry Commission notes that they are ‘a finite resource which cannot increase so what remains is precious and irreplaceable and should be protected.’
Natural England agrees.
And there’s a Listing of them – just as there are Listings of important archaeological sites and buildings. It’s called the Ancient Woodlands Inventory.

So Ancient Woodlands are the UK equivalent of the rain forest, the natural equivalent of York Minster, or Adel Church.
They are places where we can all go – to walk, to enjoy their beauty. They are places of biodiversity.
And like York Minster or Adel Church, they are irreplaceable.

In June the Heritage Lottery Fund recognised both their importance, and their status as an amenity for all of us. They gave the Woodland Trust £1.9 million to restore ancient woodland – as their East Midlands head said, because ‘“Our ancient woodlands are at risk of being lost forever.’


The Ancient Woodlands are THE HERITAGE OF ALL OF US, and they are at risk from far worse enemies than Himalayan Balsam and Rhododendrons. But then this Coalition has tried to sell our Forests, so what matters to all of us clearly doesn’t matter much to them.

But hang on, the minister talks of ‘Bio Offsetting’. This sounds comforting. They’ll be replaced?

Well, you can’t replace the irreplaceable. But allowing for that, there are still big problems with this policy.

What is ‘Bio-Offsetting’?
The Ecologist defines this as follows.
‘Quite simply, if a developer is going to build something that will damage or destroy a habitat of conservation value then they must buy a ‘bio-credit’ to compensate for that loss elsewhere.’

It’s a market device. You destroy a natural resource, then you buy ‘credit’ by putting money into some other conservation. Ideally that’s an equivalent, and ideally it’s close to where the destruction occurred. But this is a market; it won’t necessarily end up as either.

‘The UK also has its own credit scheme run by a private company, the Environment Bank Ltd, which will allow developers to buy shares in a £100m project to restore conservation land around the river Thames.’

Most Environmental organisations are deeply opposed to bio-offsetting. In November this year 140 organisations worldwide released a statement against it.
And Save Our Woods is in no doubt about its advance here in the UK, and what is driving it.

‘In the UK, offsetting is being used as an excuse to speed up planning laws and remove ‘green tape’.’

Even if a 400 year-old site of special bio-diversity and beauty COULD be replaced, it won’t necessarily be replaced by anything near you.

Well, there you have it. Owen Paterson, minister for the Environment, has publicly backed developers who want to grub up our most precious natural resources – provided they buy into some other land conservation – which might turn out to be along the Thames!

And make no mistake, this is not a promise, it’s not a casual mistake. It’s here already – and operating as part of Pickles’ Planning Framework. The policy was proposed earlier this year. Pickles is already using Bio-offsetting to allow developments rejected on the basis of negative environmental impact, according to Save our Woods. Paterson is just confirming it.

So – from the Government which pushed through the NPPF in the face of environmental opposition, from the Government which has appointed a Venture Capitalist and major Tory Party Donor as the new chair of Natural England [the ‘Nature Watchdog’!], we bring you another clause in the developers’ charter.

And these are the reasons why it matters here in Leeds North West.
There are Ancient Woodlands in this area and near to us – including for example in the Aire Valley’s Esholt Woods near Yeadon, and at Middleton Woods, the largest remaining area of Ancient Woodland in West Yorkshire – and managed by Leeds city Council.

But it’s not just their potential loss which is the point. It is the revelation – once again – of this Government’s attitudes to development and developers. Whatever you think of bio-offsetting, and environmentalists are extremely wary of it, it’s the context of its use by this Government which is critical.

What chance Roman Adel or Moseley Wood Bottoms with a Government which is prepared to sacrifice the natural equivalent of York Minster – or Adel Church – for its developer friends’ profits?

One final note – Owen Paterson and Eric Pickles are ministers in a COALITION Government of the Tories and LibDems.
The National Planning Policy Framework, and these attitudes which drive its implementation, were backed by the LibDem/Tory COALITION.
We couldn’t and wouldn’t have them without the LibDems.

Give you any ideas. . . . .

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