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Ancient woodland in Ash to be opened up to the public

4 minute read
Ancient woodland in Ash to be opened up to the public

Published at 6:00am 18th January 2020.

Image credit:  Bellway Homes and Aspect Landscape Planning. 

Ancient woodland in Ash is to be opened up to the public and dog walkers despite a council’s own officer in charge of protecting natural green space advising against the move. 

The woods, horse paddocks and agricultural land in Ash is to become open public space leading to a possible land redesignation as a SANG (Suitable Alternative Natural Greenspace) at a future date.

But Guildford Borough Council’s planning committee which approved the change of use was warned by its own SANG officer that using ancient woodland would result in "harm to irreplaceable habitat". 

Objecting to the application for land at White Lane, Ash Green Lane East and along a dismantled railway, Tom Childs, GBC’s SANGs officer, said opening up the land for public space - including a car park and designated footpaths for walkers -  and stripping it of its protective status will have a detrimental impact on College Copse Ancient Woodland.

In his letter responding to the application put forward by Bellway Home Limited, Mr Childs wrote: 

"College Copse Ancient Woodland is a quiet undisturbed, small stand of ancient woodland providing connectivity within a network of larger Ancient Woodland areas. 

"It is currently a haven of peace for wildlife that in the absence of evidence to show otherwise will be significantly and negatively impacted by the proposal."

His objections were supported by Norman Bristow who spoke at the planning committee last week on January 8 on behalf of Ash Green Residents’ Association. 

He said he was a supporter of SANGs but said he was concerned about the use of ancient woodland which has an "eco-system that has taken hundreds, possibly thousands, of years to evolve" - and could "be irreparably damaged or lost if the area was opened up to footpath or tree felling."

He said dog walking would have a detrimental impact on the area:

"I know from experience that even the best trained dog will disappear into the trees to explore giving the owner no chance of picking up any faeces that they may leave behind. The idea that dog owners can always pick up after their dogs is not realistic."

Also disputed by the SANGS officer and Mr Bristow was how old the woodland is. 

Mr Childs referred to a map from 1767 showing the wood being present then. 

And Mr Bristow could date it back to 1812.

White Lane Ash

However, Dr Rebecca Brookbank from ecology consultants Ecology Planning and Research (EPR), who carried out "extensive surveys" of the area over the last two years for the applicant, said College Copse is "unlikely to be ancient:" 

"The majority of the woodland comprises holly, birch and oak that are of recent origin with low diversity and few species associated with ancient woodland."

She said the scheme drawn up for the land - which includes a 14 space car park, mown and bark mulch paths for walking, dog proof fencing, benches, ponds and bins - would "retain and enhance" the area. 

Mr Childs argued in his letter the consideration of plants was usually used as a "secondary test" to maps. 

The 9.22 hectare site would include a 2.3km circular footpath and information boards.

The proposed SANG that could then be designated would be for future developments of up to 479 new homes in the area. 

SANGS are protected green space around new developments.

Whether the area is classified as a SANG will be determined by Natural England, the meeting was told. 

Council tree officers did not object to the application and Natural England did not object but said the ancient woodland should be "managed appropriately".

Planning officers recommended the application for approval which was then agreed by 10 members with three abstaining. 

Committee chairman Cllr Marsha Moseley said: "Whether our SANGS officer doesn’t like it or not Natural England don’t have a problem and Natural England trump our officers."

What is an ancient woodland?

According to the Woodland Trust, ancient woods are areas of woodland that have continued to have tree cover since 1600 in England and Wales and 1750 in Scotland. 

They are relatively undisturbed by human development and so have a unique and complex community of plants, fungi, insects and other microorganisms.