Early Spring

Golden Tassels - Hazel Catkins

Golden Tassels – Hazel Catkins

Alder Catkins

Alder Catkins

Alder Catkins

Alder Catkins

Birch Catkins

Birch Catkins

Willow Catkins

Willow Catkins

Golden Tassels - Hazel Catkins

Golden Tassels – Hazel Catkins

I’ve seen hazel catkins out in January before (just!), but never seen willow or alder catkins at this time of year.  Yet that is what is happening at the woods right now.  The lack of a really harsh frost this winter has led to everything being extremely early.  We have buds on our daffodils, bud burst on elder, and a load of catkins coming out, producing pollen and giving me hay-fever!

These photos were all taken last week.  Hazel, birch, alder and willow catkins coming out.  It really seems crazy.  We have had frost, but not a hard frost, and no frost under the trees themselves.  I hope we don’t get a hard and late frost to set everything back now they have started to come up.

Mystical Winter Light

Mystical Light and Frosty Path

Mystical Light and Frosty Path

As a photographer, I am always interested in light.  So it might seem strange that I love the winter, because it tends to be dark and grim, at least in the UK.  However the quality of light at this time of year can be absolutely magical.  We all know of the golden hour near sunset and sunrise, when the light is warmer and more gentle, lighting subjects from a low angle.

Angled Shadows on path

Angled Shadows

However in winter in the UK, the light is always coming from a low angle because the sun never gets very high in the sky – and while it may not have the intoxicating warmth of a summer evening, it does have a lovely gentle and watery quality that simply isn’t available at any other time of year.

frosty-walk-102

As well as a low angle and gentle watery quality, winter light is also enhanced by the cold weather bringing mist, frost and occasional snow.  The other day I was privileged to walk round the woods at just the right time of day.  There had been a very heavy overnight frost which was melting in the sunshine, adding water vapour and mist to the sense of wonder.  There was also mist rising from the ponds and canal and settling in the flood plain where the woods are situated.

Sun on the boundary

Sun on the boundary

So we have the wonderful quality and angle of the light, frost, mist and the wonderful bonus of the trees without leaves.  The form of the trees can be clearly seen at this time of year too.  In summer, all is lost in the confusion of leaves, but right now, you can see every detail, every shape.  The shadows also have much more form than in summer.  The combination of light and form is quite intoxicating.  The beauty gives me a squeezy feeling in my stomach.

Winter light in the plantation

Winter light in the plantation

I took a series of landscape shots as I walked round, trying to capture that squeezy feeling – the mystical beauty of mist, light and trees.  You don’t get the mystical winter light every day, but when you do, it can take your breath away.

Frost Mist Trees and Shadows

Frost Mist Trees and Shadows

Winter colour in the plantation

Winter colour in the plantation

Yet more amazing sunsets

Painted Sky

Painted Sky

This year seems to have been a really special one for sunsets at the woods. Following on from the unreal skies I posted a short while ago, we had another stunning and unexpected sunset just before Christmas.

Not a promising start

Not a promising start

I had actually just gone to the woods to feed the birds, and only took my little camera with me.  As I hung up the last of the feeders, I thought that the light was looking quite good, so I decided to go for a little walk.  The sunset was not that promising, and a bank of cloud was coming over, but I decided to wait a few minutes longer.  And then the sky started to turn pink and orange.

Starting to go pink

Starting to go pink

More and more colour

More and more colour

The colour started to develop until the whole sky was scarlet.  I headed down to the ponds to try and catch some reflections in the surface of the water.  I was rewarded with some great colour and photos.

Red sky

Red sky

Reflections

Reflections

The colour started to turn from orange/red to magenta, pink and purple as I walked round the bottom of Betty’s Wood and up through the meadows back towards the main woods.  Even as I arrived at the main clearing, there was still some pink in the sky, and I caught the last rays of the sun before heading home.

Getting darker

Getting darker

Pink and purple

Pink and purple

Sun setting

Sun setting

The colours were totally unreal – as if a child had some pots of bright-coloured paints and mixed them all up and threw them across the sky.  Winter is a really special time of year for sunsets.  What has been most interesting this year is that the best colour has been in the north-east, and not in the south-west where the sun is actually setting.

I hope you are not bored of seeing pictures of winter sunsets – I never tire of their beauty.

The last rays

The last rays

Unreal Skies

The Sunset Starts

The Sunset Starts

Sky on Fire!

Sky on Fire!

A few days ago, I was at the woods at sunset, when an absolutely astonishing sunset began to happen. As the sun started to go down in the south-west, as it does at this time of year, the clouds opposite, in the north-east, started to take on an amazing colour.

The Colour Starts to Build

The Colour Starts to Build

The Colour Spreads

The Colour Spreads

At Its Glorious Peak

At Its Glorious Peak

Slowly the colour began to get progressively more intense, and the colour started to change from yellow, through orange, to pink. The clouds looked like a scene from the movie “Independence Day”. Every cloud seemed to be affected and the sky looked as if it were on fire.
Every minute, the scene was changing, as it faded through shades of red and pink to darkness.
I have never seen a sky like it over the woods. It was quite incredible.

Fading to Pink

Fading to Pink

Continuing to Fade to pink

Continuing to Fade to pink

Sun Disappearing

Sun Disappearing

Last Pink Clouds

Last Pink Clouds

The last rays

The last rays opposite the entrance

Winter Wildlife Watching

Chubby Little Squirrel

Chubby Little Squirrel

Squirrel Approaching

Squirrel Approaching

Of course the birds are there all year, but you can see them much more clearly at this time of year, when the leaves have left the trees, and when they are keen to move in to our feeders for food.  This winter has been unusually mild so far, and there has been relatively little activity at our feeders, because there is still plenty of natural food around.

Robin

Robin

Nevertheless, on a sunny day in midwinter, there is nothing better than the low and slanting sunshine for spotting the little birds, and other creatures, moving in on the feeders.

Great Tit

Great Tit

Great Tit

Great Tit

At the moment we are getting a huge number of great tits and blue tits, as is usual.  But we are also getting some reed buntings, coal tits, greenfinch, goldfinch, chaffinch, dunnock, robin and nuthatch, as well as the occasional great-spotted woodpecker.  Little mobs of long-tailed tits range along the edges of the woods and tops of trees in huge groups – eleven or more of them – finding their own food in the trees.  Underneath the feeders, any spillage is rapidly swept up by pheasants, mallard and squirrels (sadly we only have grey squirrels in this area). We are still awaiting the willow tits, which we usually see at this time of year, as well as yellowhammer.  We have heard both, but not seen them on the feeders.  Overhead, the buzzards are still active, and the kestrel is hovering along the woodland margins, looking for unwise mice and voles.

Chaffinch

Chaffinch

Chubby Little Blue-Tit

Chubby Little Blue-Tit

Occasionally there is a panic, and a sparrow hawk swoops in, or a magpie comes to try its luck.

Most of the birds seem to be able to use the feeder intuitively, but some of them just never get the hang of it – in particular one female blue tit who pecked at everything except the feeding port, and eventually resorted to finishing the spilt food on the ground.

Incapable Blue-Tit

Incapable Blue-Tit

There are also relatively few fieldfare in the trees, and I haven’t seen any redwings either this winter yet. This could all change if the weather gets colder in the new year.

It is a privilege to sit in my portable chair hide, with my camera and a flask of coffee, and watch these little birds.  I don’t really mind if they are common birds – I never tire of watching or photographing their antics.

Dunnock

Dunnock

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Nuthatch on Feeder

Nuthatch on Feeder

Wonderful Winter Sunsets

Pink Clouds and Glowing Trees

Sunset from the edge of our woods

Dark and glowing clouds as dusk falls

Dark and glowing clouds as dusk falls

The first frosts have been late this year, but winter seems to have arrived at last, and with it comes the wonderful, clear and low light that casts eerie shadows within the woods and across the landscape, and brings those amazing sunsets that simply don’t occur during summer.

We’ve been gifted with a few beautiful sunsets over the last few days.  The first came while we were working away cutting up, moving and stacking logs from a willow tree that had fallen into our neighbour’s field.  It was an absolutely miserable, rainy, drizzly, damp day.  But as we were walking back up from repairing the fence with some dead-hedging and stakes, the cold front finally passed, and a sunset started to happen.  I always have a camera, even if working, and I put my little EOS-M to good work along the edge of the woods, capturing the light, clouds, colours and shapes of sunset.

Yesterday, I had to take a few photos of trees on which we are planning to have tree surgery work done later during the winter.  Because our woods has a Tree Preservation Order on it, we have to submit an application for this work to the Council, supported by photos.  While I was there, I could sense the light getting better and better for photography.  First there was the sun-dog or false rainbow caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere refracting the sunlight.  Then there were the golden leaves remaining on the birch trees, backlit by the setting sun.  Finally there was the cold wait by our entrance as the sun started to set opposite.  Subtle colours, and few clouds, but spectacular none the less.  Although I guess a few passing motorists wondered why there was a mad woman shivering in a puffa jacket with a camera round her neck by the side of the road!

Low light is the real gift of winter.  It makes this time of year special.

Birch trees glow gold in Betty's Wood

Birch trees glow gold in Betty’s Wood

Sun Dog over Betty's Wood - the rainbow is not a photographic artefact

Sun Dog over Betty’s Wood – the rainbow is not a photographic artefact

Sunset over the hills opposite the woods

Sunset over the hills opposite the woods

The sun setting right opposite our entrance

The sun setting right opposite our entrance as I was leaving.

 

Maybe I spoke too soon – more fungi

Sulphur Tuft and Moss

Sulphur Tuft and Moss

As soon as I wrote my last blog bemoaning the lack of fungi at the woods, we have had a lot of rain and the fungi are starting to emerge in some numbers.

Last weekend, I found a wonderful stump covered with tiny little fungi.  It looked like a tiny fairy city.  Other logs were showing the sulphur-tuft fungi usually seen during October.  And there are a few clouded agaric in the woods, as well as some massive jelly-ear fungi on rotting elder stems.

It seems I spoke too soon.  The fungi are fruiting at last!

Fungi Forest

Fungi Forest

Fungi and Oak Leaf

Fungi and Oak Leaf

Magic Mini-Forest

Magic Mini-Forest

Tiny Toadstools

Tiny Toadstools

More Tiny Fungi

More Tiny Fungi

Miniature Toadstool

Miniature Toadstool

Hopwas Woods Saved – Ancient Woodland Still Needs More Protection

Stunning Woodland View at Hopwas Woods

Stunning Woodland View at Hopwas Woods

A few days ago, I wrote a blog about why ancient woodland is special, and why Hopwas Woods need to be saved.

Well, people power has worked.  After a huge public outcry, a massive campaign on social media with over 10,000 followers on Facebook and a petition on Change.org, today we heard that Lafarge Tarmac have withdrawn their application to Staffordshire County Council to quarry under this beautiful ancient woodland.  The campaign attracted national media interest, the support of the Woodland Trust, and of the local MP, Christopher Pincher.

This is fantastic news, and a demonstration that if people club together, it is possible to overturn corporate decisions.

It does not, however, take away from the fact that ancient woodland is special, and that it needs to be protected.  This blog could have been written about any number of sites across England, Wales and Scotland that are threatened by development.  The fact is that protections for ancient woodland are very weak.  Ancient Woodland is one of a number of irreplaceable habitats that need additional protection under wildlife and environmental law.  Exactly what those in power don’t understand about the word “irreplaceable” I do not know.  Perhaps by reading the blog, they will gain some understanding.

Scrub is Special – Save our Scrub

Scrub habitat in Betty's Wood - home to whitethroat and yellowhammer

Scrub habitat in Betty’s Wood – home to whitethroat and yellowhammer

Scrub, as a habitat, is nearly always followed by the words “clearance” or “eradication”. How often do we read the words “it’s only scrub,” as if this is some kind of second-rate habitat to which we must do something.

A brief Google search reveals countless pages relating to wildlife groups, country parks and nature reserves, all talking about “scrub clearance”. Not to mention countless contractors offering their services, machinery, manpower and chemicals to clear scrub.

Scrub has a bad name. It has become something to be controlled, eliminated, pushed to the corners of our fields and woodlands. It doesn’t seem to be wanted, valued or loved.

Scrub is usually regenerating woodland, although in certain special situations, it may be the final, or climax, plant community. Woodland may be regenerating on a woodland site that has lost its trees, through felling, coppicing, or natural disaster, or on a previously open habitat which, for some reason or another, has ceased to be managed and is reverting to woodland. In pre-history, areas of woodland were cleared by humans, used for a while, then the people moved on, leaving the woodland to recover and regenerate via a scrub stage. Before humans made their mark, woodlands were cleared and reverted to scrub after grazing by large mammals, such as elephants. Wildwood has areas that become denuded of trees, and which regenerate. Scrub is always present, although not always in the same area, but there are always patches of scrub into which wildlife that prefers this habitat can move.

Regenerating scrub in Betty's Wood

Regenerating scrub in Betty’s Wood

Scrub will also form rapidly on almost any land that is left for any length of time: heathland, fen, coastal dunes, uplands, bogs, agricultural land and even on urban or rural habitation or industrial sites that have become abandoned.

The problem we have now is that people are not itinerant – they lived in fixed communities. Almost all land has an owner, and a defined use. Woodland is not free to regenerate where it will because land is almost always designated for a purpose – be it generation of timber in woodlands, or preservation as high forest as a nature reserve, or be it arable farmland, pasture, heathland, moorland, bog, fen, coastal dunes and other habitats deemed also to be of great value. There is precious little room for scrub to squeeze into, and people don’t want it. Because other habitats have become vanishingly rare, encroachment of scrub onto these habitats becomes something that threatens them. In towns and cities, we don’t want scrubby parkland, with ever-changing areas of wood, clearings and scrub – we want nice tidy places for people to walk, sit and play – manicured habitats, effectively over-sized gardens. Scrub is perceived as providing cover for anti-social behaviour. So it must be cleared. It doesn’t look pretty.

Even in woodland, there is little room for scrub. Coppicing produces a scrub-like regrowth from the cut stems, or stools, albeit with a more uniform height and species structure. Most of our woodland species are not species of the deep forest, they are species of the forest edge, and of scrub and coppice.   Our wildlife is adapted to the cycle of clearance and regrowth. But this is a cycle that we have broken. Coppice management has disappeared from many woodlands, leaving over-stood coppice and high forest – the familiar woodland that many of us visit and many think is the only way a woodland can or should be. We manage timber-producing woodland by clear-felling and re-planting in dense, ordered stands that produce a uniform structure. Scrub has barely a chance to grow before being overtaken by the faster-growing, more useful and more profitable softwood conifers. It is relegated to small strips around the edge and along woodland rides, if it is allowed to grow at all. Coppicing does survive, as does continuous cover forestry with natural regeneration, both of which help. But many woodlands are simply unmanaged.

Scrub in Betty's Wood

Scrub in Betty’s Wood

If this were wildwood, it wouldn’t be such a problem. Areas would naturally fall in high winds, succumb to fire or grazing, or be felled by itinerant humans or large animals. But it isn’t wildwood, and hasn’t been since humans appeared on the planet. Even worse, most areas of woodland are such small remnants of our forest cover that they are simply too small to support a mosaic of habitats, including scrub, as they stand. They are left to become high forest, with no mechanism to support regeneration, no mechanism to support a cycle of regrowth.

In addition, scrub is not allowed to develop anywhere else. Pieces of woodland are simply not allowed to “contaminate” farmland, river edges, heathland, moorland, fenland or urban and suburban parks and gardens. They are cleared up – sometimes with good justification but very often without. Agricultural stewardship schemes usually require the removal of scrub. Woodland schemes also fail to recognize the importance of scrub, or allow for its management.

So does this actually matter? Well, yes it does, because many important, declining species are actually species that prefer scrubland, and enjoy the variety of species, height of vegetation and density of vegetation that scrub can provide. These include plants themselves, lichens, bryophytes, insects, mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles. The pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly, the adder and common toad, mammals such as dormice, and birds such as blackcap, bullfinch, linnet, reed bunting, song thrust, willow tit, yellowhammer, dunnock, goldcrest, nightingale, tree sparrow and turtle dove. Many of these are disappearing as we over-clear scrub habitats and under-manage woodland.

Regenerating Birch Scrub on site of old building

Regenerating Birch Scrub on site of old building

The problem is that scrub does need some kind of management, whether you want to keep it or not. This can include resumption of coppicing within woodlands or at the woodland edge to create scrub, cyclical cutting of scrub to ensure a steady supply for scrub species, selective conservation grazing of low intensity by relatively hardy livestock, or by leaving small areas of scrub to develop around the edges of other habitats. Keeping scrub as scrub, and developing a good mosaic requires management, or it will revert to woodland or coppice – so attention needs to be paid to ensure that a wide variety of species, density and height are achieved. This is not easy to do, and there is a lot of debate about how to do this, or whether to do it.

In our own woods, we have some good areas of regenerating scrub at the edge of Betty’s Wood. And into this scrub we have attracted willow tit, whitethroat, yellowhammer, bullfinch, linnet, song thrush, goldcrest, dunnock, woodcock and others. Coppicing will, in time, produce a rotation of scrubby habitats for species to move into, as well as allowing the next generation of mature trees to emerge, and producing a sustainable crop of wood for crafts and firewood.

Our Coppice - varying ages and densities

Our Coppice – varying ages and densities

2 and 4 year coppice

Coppice from 2 (foreground) and 4 (background) years ago showing regrowth

The problem is that management of scrub has been seen as synonymous with clearance or eradication, despite it being quite clear in the Scrub Management Handbook, and the JNCC Report, that this is only ONE option, and even then, where possible a patchwork of scrub areas should usually be allowed to remain. Maybe this is because the focus has been on removal of scrub, so there has been more research into, and thus the handbook provides more information on this aspect of management. Certainly the other options given in these documents – create, enhance, preserve – seem to have been forgotten.

In addition, on woodland nature reserves and other public wooded spaces, the public perception is that these should be left alone, and that high forest is best. There is undoubtedly an argument for leaving some areas wild, and ancient woodland and veteran trees undoubtedly support a very biodiverse ecosystem, but leaving everything alone will result in a closed canopy woodland with lower diversity than a managed woodland that includes ancient and veteran trees.

Oak glade in spring

Oak glade in spring – ancient and diverse high forest habitat

People don’t like to see trees being cut down, so managers of public land don’t cut them down – it is the easiest option. It would be lovely if areas of woodland were extensive enough to allow natural processes of regeneration to take place – but few sites are large enough. The average size of a piece of woodland in England is about 8ha. So the management methods that create scrub are not being carried out, nor is scrub being created naturally. At the same time, people are receptive to the idea of clearing scrub – the combined effect is that scrub is reduced in extent and diversity, and often confined to margins of roads and railways, and to derelict urban sites awaiting development.

Stunning Woodland View at Hopwas Woods

High Forest – the popular perception of what woodland should be like

We hardly ever see the word “scrub” in management plans for nature reserves unless it is followed by the word “clearance”. There are clearly habitats where scrub needs to be cut, or it will overwhelm other valuable and vanishing habitats, but it is really important to ensure that an area of scrub is left, and managed on rotation, so there is always somewhere for scrub species to go. There is a need to question whether complete scrub removal is required. Areas of scrub also need to be left in urban and suburban green spaces. They are amazing places for children to explore, and learn, as well as being repositories of wildlife. They may not look tidy, but neither do uncut road verges – yet many councils are taking up Plantlife’s campaign to leave some area of verge to grow wildflowers, so why not take up the cause of scrub, and leave some areas of urban parks to develop as scrub habitat?

There seems to be a real need to educate people as to the value of scrub, and the related woodland coppice habitat, so that they can understand the need to keep some scrub, and to create coppice. To do this, the mindset that cutting down trees is “bad” and clearing scrub is “good” needs to be changed. In addition, there needs to be support for scrub habitat – not just the specialised communities in rare scrub habitats, but good old-fashioned lowland scrub – within stewardship schemes, woodland grant schemes and within urban and suburban green spaces.

Not all scrub is bad. A lot of species depend on scrub, and on an ever-changing and evolving patchwork of vegetation from open meadow to high forest, and everything in between. The in between bits are important. Scrub is important. Save our Scrub!

Willow tit

Willow tit – a red-listed species that depends on scrub habitat

Resources:

JNCC Report 308: Mortimer, S.R., Turner, A.J., Brown, V.K., Fuller, R.J., Good, J.E.G., Bell, S.A. Stevens, P.A., Norris, D., Bayfield, N. and Ward, L.K. – (2000) – The Nature Conservation Value of Scrub in Britain – Available from http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-2445

FACT in conjunction with English Nature (2003) The Scrub Management Handbook – ISBN 1 85716 745 7 – Available from http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/72031

Fuller RJ and Warren MS (1995) – Management for Biodiversity in British Woodlands – Striking a Balance – from British Wildlife (1995): 7; 26-37 – Available from http://www.britishwildlife.com/classicarticlesview.asp

Fuller RJ and Warren MS – Coppiced Woodlands: Their Management for Wildlife (1993) – available from http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/page-2640

Gough SJ and Fuller RJ (1998) – Scrub Management for Conservation in Lowland England: Practices, Problems and Possibilities

BTO Research Report No. 194 ISBN 0 903793 96 2 – available from http://www.bto.org/sites/default/files/u196/downloads/rr194.pdf

See Also

A great album of photos of scrub regenerating on Exmoor – by Hen

 

Hopwas Woods – Ancient Woodland Under Threat

PAWS - regenerating broadleaf under conifer at Hopwas Woods

PAWS – regenerating broadleaf under conifer at Hopwas Woods

There are many misunderstandings around the phrase “ancient woodland”. But it is really quite simple: ancient woodland is a piece of land that has been wooded since 1600. The age of the current trees don’t matter, although ancient woodland is often home to special, ancient and craggy trees of great wildlife value. What matters is that the piece of land has had woodland on it for a very long time.

So, woodland that has been destroyed by fire but that is regrowing can still be ancient woodland, as can woodland that has been felled and planted with conifers – the soil is what matters, and that soil contains all the special organisms such as mycorrhizal fungi, bacteria and slime moulds, as well as flatworms, insects and others. Once the planted woodland disappears, the soil will regenerate the special ancient woodland that was once on the site. Provided the soil is left undisturbed.

Ancient woodland is very special. It is a relic of ancient forests extending back in time to Domesday. It is not fossilized, or set in stone. It has been extensively managed and used by humans – indeed, many of the most wildlife-rich parts of ancient woodlands are in the areas that are sustainably managed using techniques that are centuries or even millennia old. The key thing is that it has been there a long time, with its unique and delicate ecosystem. As such, it supports a unique community of creatures. Once it is destroyed, this community is lost. Newly-planted woodland may develop over time to provide a good woodland habitat, but it will take centuries to become ancient, and we don’t know if it ever really acquires the richness of the relict ecosystem in our ancient woodlands.

Beautiful old oak tree at Hopwas Woods

Beautiful old oak tree at Hopwas Woods

Ancient woodland is thus irreplaceable: you cannot dig it up, replant it, move the soil and transfer it, or do anything to it. To remain as ancient woodland habitat, you have to leave it be. Only 2% of our land area remains as ancient woodland, fragmented, clinging on. Fragmentation makes every piece even more valuable – each ancient woodland ecological community is vulnerable to threats such as fire or disease and the seriously-fragmented remnants provide precious little resilience against these threats. Destruction of any ancient woodland is a disaster, particularly where fragmentation is so severe that there is nowhere for the woodland creatures to go. Each and every piece of remaining woodland is a vital lifeline for wildlife, not to mention the people who enjoy these pieces of woodland for recreation, education and health and well-being.

Woodland species are declining along with the loss of ancient woodland – and many of the species are associated with either ancient woodland itself, or regenerating woodland scrub in areas that have been coppiced or cleared – lesser spotted woodpecker, lesser whitethroat, redpoll, willow tit, bullfinch and others.

Hopwas Woods, to the west of Tamworth, is one of the few remaining fragments of ancient woodland left in the area, our own being the only other sizeable fragment, lying to the east of Tamworth. It is designated mostly as ancient semi-natural woodland (ASNW), with a small fraction of it as plantation on ancient woodland site (PAWS). You can’t get away from it: the whole site is ancient woodland, and this can be confirmed using DEFRA’s own mapping system, MAGIC. http://magic.defra.gov.uk/MagicMap.aspx

But now there is a threat thanks to Staffordshire County Council review of the Minerals Core Strategy and Local Minerals Plan, which is currently undergoing revision. Following a consultation on the draft plan in April 2014, which had already identified reserves of sand and gravel sufficient to meet statutory requirements, contributions were invited from developers for additional sites for sand and gravel extraction, and these include a proposal by Lafarge Tarmac to destroy a large proportion of Hopwas Woods for quarrying. Virtually all of the proposed affected area is ancient woodland or PAWS, despite the developer claiming that this designation affects only half the proposed site.

Stunning Woodland View at Hopwas Woods

Stunning Woodland View at Hopwas Woods

Sadly, the protections for ASNW and PAWS are inadequate. The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) states that:

“planning permission should be refused for development resulting in the loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodland and the loss of aged or veteran trees found outside ancient woodland, unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss”

The problem is that this leaves wriggle room for developers to justify development based upon economic criteria. Sadly, this works, as the fate of Oaken Wood has recently shown – permission was granted to quarry this ancient woodland on economic criteria after appeal to the Communities Secretary.

So what we have is a proposal for extraction of sand and gravel that is not actually needed, from an important ancient woodland site, that is widely valued and used by the local community, that is home to important wildlife including European Protected Species. Other sites for gravel extraction can clearly meet the economic need, so its destruction is not required. But it is still under threat.

Family enjoying Hopwas Woods

Family enjoying Hopwas Woods

More than that, it will rip out the heart of a wildlife and local community with knock-on effects for wildlife in the whole area. The Lawton Report (Making Space for Nature) clearly identified the need for landscape-scale conservation, a patchwork of habitats, and wildlife corridors. Conservation based upon reserves has failed to halt the decline in nature in the UK. Wildlife from the vanishingly-small pieces of ancient woodland in the Tamworth area has nowhere else to go. Lose Hopwas Woods and we lose far more than the woods alone – we lose an absolutely vital link in the local wildlife community.

And there are the people. People who grew up walking in the woods, enjoying the public rights of way therein. People who learned to love nature by spending time in the woods as children. People who enjoy walking, running, mountain biking, horse riding and other activities in the woods. People who connect with the local landscape, appreciate it, care for it, and who have taken it to their hearts.

Rider on Bridlepath

Rider on Bridlepath in Hopwas Woods

The local community is not taking this lightly. In 24 hours, a new Facebook page, Save Hopwas Woods, got 7000 followers, and has now passed 10,000. The Friends of Hopwas Woods have issued a document detailing the plans and how you can object. Objections can be lodged on the Staffordshire County Council web site. The campaign has engaged the local MP and local Mayor. An important petition is now online with Change.org.

Woodland Path at Hopwas Woods

Woodland Path at Hopwas Woods

Ancient woodland is irreplaceable, and this campaign must succeed. The Woodland Trust have stated that the plan is the largest threat to ancient woodland they have seen in their 42 year history. The plan to tear up this ancient woodland is all about profit. It is about taking away a resource from local wildlife and community and putting it in the hands of developers. The consultation is open until December 5th. It needs to be stopped.

Please see:

Save Hopwas Woods on Facebook
Friends of Hopwas Woods web site
@savehopwaswoods on Twitter
}Lodge objections with Staffordshire County Council using their questionnaire
Sign the petition on Change.org and the petition on 38Degrees

And please read, share and reblog this blog and get this out to as many people as possible!

Hopwas Woods

Hopwas Woods – broadleaves and conifers

UPDATE 30/10/2014 – Lafarge Tarmac have withdrawn their application to quarry under Hopwas Woods.