Environment Secretary Owen Paterson?s ?biodiversity offsetting? scheme, under which ancient woodlands could be cut down to allow new building, has sparked anger from green campaigners. Mr Paterson?s plan, which would mean that developers would have to plant 100 trees for every one that is destroyed, was formulated to accelerate construction and provide more housing.
Critics have argued that the policy could lead to forests dating from 1600 being destroyed. DEFRA has responded by saying that any move to build on ancient woodlands would be restricted to major projects and that planning permission would only be granted in exceptional cases. Mr Paterson claims that the proposals could lead to an increase in the number of trees.
The Woodland Trust is campaigning against the inclusion of ancient woodlands in the scheme, rejecting the idea that the future of those habitats should depend on the proposed economic benefit of a development. It says that more than 380 ancient forests are already under threat from development projects, including the HS2 high-speed rail line.
The National Trust has also called for the exclusion of ?irreplaceable? habitats from the scheme. A spokesman said: ?Offsetting the losses of wildlife that usually accompany development by creating replacement habitats could be a useful addition to the planning system, but it mustn?t mean mature, irreplaceable habitats being exchanged for low-quality habitats that will take decades to develop the character and complexity of those that have been lost.?