Dr Tony Whitbread
As I write, Pondtail Wood, near Henfield, is being destroyed.
This is an ancient site, replanted with conifer trees many years ago but still with its rich flora. Felling trees as part of normal woodland management is something to be welcomed, but this is not what is happening here. The trees are gone, the soil is disturbed and imported rubble is being scattered across the site. The owner has been told to stop by the relevant authorities, but has simply ignored them. And all this was done in the bird breeding season!
Forests used to cover the whole of Britain, but ancient woodland now only covers about 1% of our land area. Ancient woodland is now our most well-protected habitat. Government policy, County policy and Local policy all protect this important and irreplaceable natural asset. The battle to protect ancient woods was won nearly three decades ago. How is it possible, therefore, that someone has been able to buy a piece of ancient wood and then destroy it?
Planning Authorities have the power to stop this, but negotiations have taken place and a stop order issued – all ignored. It is in the National Park, yet still the clearance continues. Forestry Commission felling licence requirements ignored, European Protected Species ignored, and so on.
The Planning Authority (in this case The National Park) must now enforce the restoration of the site. The longer the work goes on the more expensive it will be for the landowner to put it right again. Ultimately, the responsibility for enforcing the laws of the land lies with the government. Government must ensure that the planning authorities have the tools to do the job.
At this time of year it is all too clear to see, just along the road, how responsible landowners are caring for ancient woodlands. We have had an excellent spring for bluebells and wood anemones, you can see wild garlic in the valleys and early purple orchids scattered on the woodland floor, all under the shade of ancient coppices that have provided resources for generations of woodsmen. The air is filled with the sound of chiff chaff and at night you may be lucky enough to hear the sound of nightingales. Not in Pondtail Wood, however, where the sights and sounds of the English countryside have been wiped out by an act of vandalism.
UPDATED BBC South East report