By Dr Tony Whitbread
So Highways England has made their minds up. There is going to be another Arundel bypass and it is going to go through ancient woodland. A piece of woodland called Hundredhouse Copse – once a Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserve.
No matter that this woodland has been there for at least 400 years, probably much longer. No matter that this was once managed as a Sussex Wildlife Trust nature reserve – now in the good care of the owner. No matter because it’s going to be replaced – Highways England will run us up a new one!
Before working for Sussex Wildlife Trust I was a woodland ecologist, identifying ancient woodlands in Sussex for the then government wildlife body – the Nature Conservancy Council. It has been very clear for a very long time that ancient woodlands are not replaceable. You simply cannot get away from that “ancient” bit of the term “ancient woodland”. These places have attributes only there because of the long passage of time. They are history books with centuries of history written into their landform, structure and wildlife. Old banks say how the wood was owned and controlled, ancient coppice stools paint a picture of centuries of management and historic remains, like charcoal hearths and saw-pits give a taste of past life in the woods. Their soils are the products of centuries of woodland cover. Ancient woods also contain carpets of bluebells, wood anemones, wild daffodils and orchids, that simply don’t just appear when you plant a few sticks in the ground and call it woodland.
Claiming that you can create a new ancient woodland- with all its history, culture and wildlife – is like claiming you can give birth to a wise old genius – with their fully-formed knowledge, experience and wisdom. It is, however, something that is promoted by the development industry, in this case road builders, in an attempt to wish away fundamental problems with their proposals.
It is not as though people have not tried – see the excellent Woodland Trust publication “Translocation and Ancient Woodland”. But you cannot get away from the basic point – a new wood is a new wood - valuable, yes, but still just a new wood. An ancient wood is irreplaceable. The Arundel bypass means we are now set to lose the irreplaceable in a scramble to chase a flawed 1960s approach to road building. The road will fail to deliver its basic objective – to relieve congestion. This will be clear a few years after the road is built – but the wood will be lost, and Sussex will be poorer.