Britain’s Woodlands Under Threat

Woodland conservation in the United Kingdom has received a lot of press coverage in the last few years. There is a growing public consciousness that we must preserve our native ancient woodlands. But those woodlands are still dwindling, under threat from both human building projects and human-caused climate disruptions, and natural threats like competition and disease. More than 1000 ancient woodlands have been threatened over the last ten years and thousands more trees are threatened not only by our actions, but also by our inaction and apathy.

In Britain, ancient forests are the richest and most diverse habitat we have, and in England, that was once covered by huge swathes of woodland, it now accounts for only around 2% of the land area. Once lost, these cannot easily be regained, if they can be regained at all. Contrary to popular belief, there is no wholesale and loophole proof protection for these precious few remaining areas of ancient forest in England. The threats from human development to ancient woodland is relentless.

Currently, woodland areas in England are threatened by large scale national developments like the high speed rail link, as well as smaller scale local projects like new roads and houses, golf courses and quarries. Fortunately, there are people, like those involved with the Woodland Trust, who are making these threats known, and making sure voices supporting the trees are heard. They, and other similar groups, lobby for small but effective changes to be made at government level, which would protect these trees, and preserve this important part of our landscape for future generations.


There are five main impacts in native woodland of development. Firstly, there is are chemical effects from human encroachment; there is disturbance caused by large-scale earthworks, traffic and heavy machinery; breaking up woodlands may mean that they are too small to exist as viable ecosystems; there can be invasion by non-native plants; and finally, there are cumulative effects which may kill off a woodland by small increments. All of these must be seen to if we are to save the ancient forests.

In Scotland, there are more areas where the native ancient Caledonian forest remains. Over one fifth of Scotland is covered in woodland, though only one third of that is native mixed woodland. Here, the threats to ancient woodland are less down to encroaching land-use, and more due to a lack of biodiversity. Large scale commercial planting in the 20th Century reduced diversity and made unnatural forests in which very few species could live. Fortunately, modern governmental policy and the guardianship of the Forestry Commission and other environmental groups have meant that the forests in parts of Scotland are not only surviving, they are thriving, and even growing. There is an aim to once more allow the native ancient forest to spread from coast to coast.

The future of British woodland is hopeful, but only if the destruction can be stopped, and the planting of trees and increasing of biodiversity continue. We must all be aware of the problems, and do our best to convince the governments to do something to ensure the survival of this most important and vital of habitats.

Save Our Green Belt!

Our cities and towns are growing, gradually the countryside is reduced and tamed by urban sprawl. But this is not a new problem, and planners in the United Kingdom have long used policies to try to curtail and contain the growing urbanisation. Designating green belts is one method planners have used. Green Belt is a term used to describe an area around a city or urban area which should not be built on, but should instead be kept open for farming, woodland, or outdoor leisure pursuits.

– History:

The necessity of curtailing urban sprawl was recognised for many years by groups advocating for the protection of the countryside, and the ‘garden city’ movement, who recognised that cities must include the provision of green spaces accessible by their inhabitants. It was not until 1935, however, that seeds were planted for the implementation of a green belt. The Greater London Regional Planning Committee proposed to create a green belt, or ‘girdle’ of green, open, recreational space around the city. The wheels of bureaucracy grind slowly, however, and it was another fourteen years before the Metropolitan Green Belt was properly defined and mapped by all of the local authorities involved.
In 1947, legislation was put in place allowing Local Authorities outside London to include proposals for green belts in their new development plans. They were encouraged to do so in the historic Circular 42/55 which laid out details of green belt policy.

– Green belt policy today:

Today, around 13% of England is designated at green belt. Development is very strictly circumscribed within those areas and is covered by the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). In Northern Ireland, 16% of the land is greenbelt, and there is one greenbelt in Wales, between Cardiff and Newport. In Scotland there are 10 greenbelts at present, with plans for several more. The Scottish Government policy is slightly different to that of the Westminster Government, in that in Scotland, it is recognised that some types of development within green belt areas is desirable. For example, creation of community woodlands, re-use of derelict farm buildings, or re-purposing of green space for market gardening. They are very focussed not just on making and retaining these open green spaces, but also emphasize the need to maintain and enhance biodiversity within these areas.

green belt

– Benefits of Green Belt:

It is clear that cities require to be halted in their inexorable outward spread, and green belts can help with this problem. They can also stop two distinct towns from becoming one, and losing their distinct identities. They can help to maintain the setting and character of historic towns, and also assist struggling city centres, since developers must look to brown field and run-down urban sites rather than spreading outwards into green-field development. Arguably most importantly, they provide much needed green space and access to nature for city dwellers.

– Future Development:

It has been argued that green belt policy is a little out of date, and can be too proscriptive for the modern world, especially as regards ecological development. Some argue that our green space policy will have to improve to encompass whole cities, and that greenbelts will have to be better managed and of better ecological diversity as our population continues to grow.
Whatever happens, it is clear that our green belts are being stretched as the big bellies of the cities become full to bursting point. It will be fascinating to see what happens with city planning and greenspace in the future.