Britain’s trees & woods are facing “an unprecedented level of threat” according to a report recently published by the Forestry Commission. 19 serious pests and diseases have been recorded as occurring in the country’s tree population, with 10 of these considered to be of epidemic status. Further pests & diseases are rapidly approaching our island from the continent, and are expected to appear here in the near future. The most serious and by far the most talked about disease is ash dieback, which threatens to bring about enormous changes to Britain’s landscape. Acute oak decline is an as yet poorly understood syndrome which results in severe and rapid crown dieback and death. Phytophthora diseases of various species are attacking a range of species including alder, larch, juniper and horse chestnut. Sweet chestnut blight has arrived from continental Europe in the past year or so, and the list continues to grow.
In addition to the threat from ‘natural’ causes, our woodlands are under continual attack by developers. Our trees and woods have always been under-protected but the government’s recent planning reforms have weakened their protection further.
In July 2012 the government released figures from the Independent Panel on Forestry showing that some 3750 acres of woodland has been lost every year for the past ten years. In that period, 683 woods came under threat from developers, of which 134 woods were lost. Research completed in 2012 concluded that there has been a decline of over 95% in hedgerow trees over the past 60 years: in 1951 there were estimated to be 56 million hedgerow trees in England, whereas the figure for 2012 is an estimated 2 million.
All this at a time when trees and woodlands are more valued than ever by the public. The outcry against the government’s scheme to sell off the Forestry Commission’s land was huge, and had to be heeded. Locally, the campaign to save Thorpe’s woods has become extremely popular, illustrated by a torrent of letters in the Norwich Evening News in the fortnight before Christmas: the catalyst for this impressive flood of letter-writing was an article in the Evening News on 10th December reporting that Thorpe councillors Ian Mackie and Nigel Shaw had re-stated their commitment to standing up for the woods.
Britain’s woodlands are very much under siege but the threat to woodlands in Norfolk, and the Norwich area in particular, is probably greater than average. Not only was the site of one of the UK’s first confirmed outbreaks of ash dieback in mature woodland under 20 miles from Norwich, but Norfolk has acute oak decline and Phytophthora diseases in alder, horse chestnut and other tree species. But on top of this, the north-eastern fringes of Norwich have been targeted for 10,000 new houses to be built by 2026. Landowners have been eagerly rubbing their hands in anticipation of the millions they could make if their land is allocated for development in the North East Norwich Growth Triangle, and among these landowners is, of course, the Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust, owners of our woods in Thorpe.
Before the T&FT can lay a single brick, however, Broadland District Council have to explicitly declare the woods available for development in their forthcoming Area Action Plan. The AAP will be the development planning document that govern which land within the growth triangle may be considered for development and which land is to be retained as green space (or ‘Green Infrastructure’ as it is officially called).
In view of the unprecedented level of threat to woodlands in general, anyone might expect the concept of allowing such superb woodland as is found at Racecourse Plantation, Belmore Plantation and Brown’s Plantation to be destroyed for development to be completely unthinkable. However, BDC have so far been reluctant to see it this way. There are strong indications that BDC will include an option for development on the woods in the AAP consultation, expected to be launched in April 2013. We expect alternative options that exclude any development on the woods to go alongside it.
When the AAP consultation begins, it will be essential that everyone who cares about Thorpe’s woods, and woodlands and trees in general, seizes their chance to stand up for the woods by responding to the consultation. An overwhelming NO to any development in Thorpe’s woods will help steer BDC’s decision-makers in the right direction.
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