Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees: Natural England and Forestry Commission Standing Advice to Planners.

In November 2017 standing advice regarding ancient woodland habitat and veteran trees available to local authority from Natural England and the Forestry Commission was changed.

The changes sparked a mild panic in the development community as one of the significant changes was the inclusion of a 50-metre buffer zone between development and ancient woodland. Although this was misunderstood to mean a total exclusion, its possible impact on smaller sites previously earmarked for development was significant.

In January 2018 the changes relating to ancient woodlands were rolled back, in a U-turn by Natural England, while advice and industry feedback is sought. Advice relating to veteran trees remains in place.

The Current Advice:

Ancient Woodland

Ancient woodland, for the sake of clarity, is considered a habitat, although trees are typically present it is not always the case as open spaces, both temporary and permanent, play an important part in the diversity of its habitat value. I will not cover ancient woodland in detail as the reader is better placed to seek advice from a suitably qualified ecologist on matters relating to planning. Some brief information relating to current advice on buffer zones and links to standing advice are included below.

For a summary of the information available to local authorities when contemplating sites with ancient woodland see the .gov website here.

“The advice on the appropriate size of buffer zones (under ‘Mitigation measures’) has changed. The last version suggested a 50 metre (m) zone to mitigate the effects of pollution and trampling. Following queries about the 50m zone, this text has been removed. Natural England and the Forestry Commission are reviewing the feedback they’ve received.”

Prior to the Jan update:

“leaving an appropriate buffer zone of semi-natural habitat between the development and the ancient woodland (depending on the scale and impact of development, a minimum buffer should be at least 15 metres to avoid root damage and at least 50m for pollution or trampling)”.

Veteran Trees

The presence of ancient woodland in proximity to potential development sites is a consideration for Preliminary Ecological Assessments, (PEA). Ancient woodland may be covered in a BS5837:2012 report where individual trees such as veterans within the woodland may draw comment or that the woodland itself warrants inclusion on some sylvan grounds. 

The current standing advice on veteran trees is provided below as an extract from the current advice.

A buffer zone at least 15 times larger than the diameter of the tree or 5m from the edge of the canopy, if that’s greater

It can be confusing as to whether an arboricultural consultant or an ecologist, (or both), are required to be contacted when seeking advice and it is advisable to contact one or the other to find out the most suitable approach.