More than 80% of ancient woodlands without protection

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The Independent Online

Britain's ancient woodlands are largely unprotected and face new dangers that could lead to their destruction, a report released today says.

Britain's ancient woodlands are largely unprotected and face new dangers that could lead to their destruction, a report released today says.

Broadleaved woodland contains more globally threatened and rapidly declining species than any other habitat in the country. Yet half of this habitat has been lost since the Thirties and today only 2 per cent of Britain's total land area is covered by it. In future, changes in temperature, rainfall patterns, drought and storm frequency brought about by global warming, will have a big impact on ancient woodland.

A number of the plants and animals that live in these areas are unlikely to be able to respond fast enough to predicted climate changes and may become scarce or even extinct in the wild. Plants such as bluebells, Solomon's seal and wood anemone are particularly at risk. Climatic changes may also lead to increasing numbers and varieties of pests.

In its report, the Woodland Trust warns that loopholes in the law and poor planning regulations mean that 85 per cent of ancient woodland has no legal protection.

Intensive agriculture is further isolating already fragmented woods. This is compounded by over-grazing by livestock and deer, which arrests the growth of new trees.

The Woodland Trust has compiled a list of more than 30 ancient woods throughout the UK which are under threat. Hopwas Hays Woods in Staffordshire has recently been acquired by Nash Rocks, which wants to extract minerals from the site - some 80 per cent of the total area of 373 acres could be affected.

At Sowerby Woods in Cumbria, one of the last coppiced woods in the Furness peninsula, planning permission has recently been granted for the building of a distribution warehouse that will destroy part of the woodland.

Mike Townsend, the trust's chief executive, said: "Ancient woods are a finite resource which can never be replaced, their future survival depends on action now. Despite a growing understanding of the value of ancient woodlands and the creation of a number of new policies and programmes, ancient woodland continues to be threatened and destroyed."

The trust called for the creation of a form of conservation status for important sites such as ancient woodland. The Government should also create formal planning guidance for local authorities to create stronger policies in local plans.

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