FLAC ancient woodland case upheld on appeal

In a precedent-setting decision, the Secretary of State accepted his Inspector’s findings on ancient woodland that upheld the case advanced by FLAC Principal Julian Forbes-Laird, and Aspect Ecology Principal Alistair Baxter. Based on the absence of the woodland at issue from a number of maps that pre-date the earliest mapping evidence of 1840, JFL contended that the woodland at issue was not in fact ancient and had, therefore, been wrongly included within the Maidstone Ancient Woodland Inventory 2012 (MAWI). Alistair showed that a number of so-called ancient woodland indicator vascular plant species within the supposed ancient woodland, were also found – in greater number – in an acknowledged secondary woodland elsewhere on site. Despite staunch resistance from Natural England, and a detailed written submission from the MAWI lead author, the Inspector concluded:

  • 256 …There is no statutory procedure for the designation of Ancient Woodlands, and therefore the inclusion of a site in either the Inventory or the [MAGIC] Database does not amount to such a designation. Rather, it is an indication that a woodland may be ancient.
  • 257 In the case of Five Acre Wood, although the woodland is ‘provisionally’ identified as ancient, there is no evidence to that effect. The earliest mapped evidence dates from 1840, whereas the accepted definition requires continuity of woodedness since 1600. Although the appellants’ survey found 16 vascular [plant] species, which are possible ancient woodland indicators NE again acknowledges that such evidence is normally used only for the purposes of confirmation, in situations where there is already other evidence from historic mapping. That is not the case here.
  • 258 There is no map-based evidence before this inquiry that shows any basis for believing Five Acre Wood to date back to 1600. If any such evidence existed, I can see no reason why it would not have been revealed during the course of Mr Forbes-Laird’s lengthy correspondence with NE on this matter. When challenged on such a matter, it seems to me that it is incumbent upon NE to disclose any such evidence. The arguments presented by NE in that correspondence, and indeed by Dr Sansum subsequently, suggest merely that ancientness cannot be ruled out. In the absence of any underlying evidence of a positive nature, this is not enough.
  • 268 I conclude that Five Acre Wood should not be treated as ancient woodland for the purposes of this appeal.

So far as we are aware, this is the first time that the accuracy of the ancient woodland inventory has been subject to successful challenge. Whilst this required high-level expertise and detailed, forensic mapping and other investigative work, this decision demonstrates that it can be done. Click here to download the full appeal decision or contact us if you would like to discuss a project affecting ancient woodland.