Pondtail Wood - centuries of woodland history destroyed in a few weeks

, 16 May 2016
Pondtail Wood - centuries of woodland history destroyed in a few weeks
Protests at the illegal felling of Pondtail Wood / Bob Foreman

Dr Tony Whitbread

Chief Executive

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

Leave a comment


  • Carolyn Carter:

    Another disgraceful act of vandalism. Once gone its very hard/impossible to get back the precious things we have lost. Its happening near me in Norfolk with the Northern Distributor Road cutting a gigantic scar across some beautiful woodlands

    16 May 2016 12:42:50

  • Angela parsons:

    Making sure the owners replant is a must.

    16 May 2016 12:59:15

  • amanda browne:

    well ….i dont get it …who sold the land to who …? somebody must have known what was going to happen …if some is interested in buying a wood ,its for the wood right ..surely it should have been better instrumented in the first place ..er which land agent etc etc we all knew it was for sale ..why did’nt the powers that be know if the locals did ? ..dont get it ..i smell a big fat rat ……..

    16 May 2016 19:20:28

  • Andrew Carey:

    Let’s name and shame the vandal! Why are we pussyfooting around a criminal?

    16 May 2016 19:23:56

  • Dawn Robinson:

    Unfortunately, some people don’t care about these laws/ or don’t feel it applies to them. And they know there’s not going to be much enforcement, so it’s worth the risk. Where does the responsibility for enforcement lie? Government – or local councils (with very small teeth)?

    16 May 2016 22:02:47

  • J. Robertson:

    I have just written to [email protected] and asked them what they are doing to stop it and what action they are going to take against the perpetrators.
    Now I’m about to email the local mp Nicholas Soames.
    [email protected]

    17 May 2016 11:14:15

  • Phillip Ellis:

    Last year there was a case that got to the high court between Slough & Windsor Council and a landowner cleared a site of trees. He was ordered to replant. Contact me offline for pdf of case.

    17 May 2016 14:34:55

  • Phillip Ellis:

    Look this case up, quiet interesting.


    17 May 2016 14:50:17

  • Brenda Pollack:

    great to hear that some people are writing letters. But they need to go to the south Downs National Park Authority as well as Mid Sussex DC. Also letters to the local papers are important. You can follow further developments on this new Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/savepondtailwood/?fref=ts

    17 May 2016 19:10:29

  • Tree Holdaway:

    Why is it that some people are so hell bent on destroying our diminishing earth/ What will be left for our children and future generations. Woodland is vitally important for insects to pollinate, to live in and breed and all are the basis of our very existance. I cannot believe in this modern age where you can learn about anything at all on the internet that some cretins still dont get it. Leave the trees alone. If I had known earlier (too busy walking in the woods!) I would have tied myself to the biggest tree in the wood – providing it didnt damage it. Do anything you can, join the Woodland Trust, try and preserve what we have our trees are vital to all that live and breathe.

    25 May 2016 20:26:31

  • farmergeddon:

    If everyone like me is so f…ed off about it lets buy it the reserve has been dropped 40 grand would buy it though with the liability its worth minus nothing . Issues to e considered 1 new owners would be liable for any civil action . Not criminal as it is well documented who is responsible there . 2If the council bought it it is unlikely they would meet the expense of any proper clear up and it would likely end up a transit site . 3 rd option all loals chip in and buy it under contract to immediately become responsible for a small area . A great no of owners each responsible for a small clearance and replant is most likely to happen . Ifeel that the task oftaking say two hundred owners to court would help to keep the council flexible while the job is showing progress . So come on locals as the saying goes put up or shut up . Buy your grand children a bit of sdnp . You know it makes sense and next time ground is up for sale lets do it again to start the ball rolling 5000on the table we have to act fast aution is about 10 days . My e mail is . [email protected] any interest? Come on you hippies and f o e lets do it

    30 Sep 2016 23:26:28

  • farmergeddon:

    How sad that so many people took the time to protest . Yet i did not get one single reply to my previous posting . I think the only opportunity to restore the woods has been missed . The auction is monday

    09 Oct 2016 20:51:22

  • nick . aka farmergeddon:

    Still no response . If 160 people put up £250 we would have bought it and any residual gone towards clearance . I would even supply many of the trees . How sad to miss the opportunity . Oh well . I will get on with planting on another piece of ground now that we are in planting season . If any one has an interest feel free to e mail me . If not stop protesting

    22 Nov 2016 02:21:12