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Largest single threat to ancient woodland in England goes to public inquiry Woodland Trust applauds government decision to call in quarry extension into Oaken Wood in Kent
Under pressure from conservation groups and local campaigners, Eric Pickles, Secretary of state for the department of Communities and Local Government (CLG), has called in the controversial application for a quarry extension into Oaken Wood near Maidstone in Kent for public inquiry.
The application if passed would see the destruction of a minimum of 33 ha - about 30 football pitches - of irreplaceable ancient woodland inhabited by wildlife species so rare they are designated nationally scarce or endangered. This would result in the largest single case of destruction to ancient woodland England in recent times.
Kent County Council Planning Committee had previously approved the development by Gallagher Ltd.
Nikki Williams, head of campaigning at the Woodland Trust, said: "This is the moment for Government to make good on Caroline Spelman's promises earlier in the year to bring in better protection for of ancient woodland in the UK. Over 5,500 people wrote directly to Mr Pickles demanding this call in, so if the 'Big Society' is to mean anything, Mr Pickles needs to listen to their concerns.
"Once ancient woodland is gone, it's gone forever. You can't recreate it with new planting or by translocating soils - as Gallagher's tried to suggest in their mitigation. We now have a second chance to turn back from the brink over Oaken Wood, but frankly this application should never have got even this far. It breaks government planning guidance and an independent planning consultant threw out the argument that it is needed to meet local demand."
The Woodland Trust, Kent Wildlife Trust and local action groups have lobbied Pickles to call a public inquiry over the case, which is also in contravention of Planning Policy Statements 1 and 9 which both contain a strong presumption against development in areas of ancient woodland, unless the development would provide overriding benefits.
The Woodland Trust has claimed the quarrying operations will have a huge indirect impact beyond the core area of 33ha on the neighbouring woodland. Currently Oaken Wood is part of a continuous habitat covering 120ha, closely linked to another 48ha of woodland, and much of its value for wildlife lies in this connectivity.
Independent research commissioned by the Trust has shown that by fragmenting and isolating habitats, species are unable to move between them and might avoid the woodland near the quarry altogether. Adjoining land use of the type proposed by Gallagher's also causes high levels of dust, sudden or sustained noise and chemical drift several miles downwind, which degrades the woodland.
Over the last decade the Trust has contested the cases of 900 woods under threat of development.
For more information, please contact the Woodland Trust press office on 01476 581121 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.