Ancient woodland and veteran trees: protecting them from development
What planning authorities should consider for developments near ancient woodland and veteran trees.
This is Natural England and the Forestry Commission’s standing advice for planning authorities. It should be taken into account by planning authorities where relevant when determining planning applications.
This standing advice is provided in place of an individual response to a planning consultation on ancient woodland and veteran trees. Natural England and the Forestry Commission will only provide bespoke advice as set out in the when to contact sections or in exceptional circumstances.
Trees and woodland classed as ‘ancient’ or ‘veteran’ are irreplaceable. Ancient woodland takes hundreds of years to establish and is considered important for its wildlife, soils, recreation, cultural value, history and contribution to landscapes.
‘Ancient woodland’ is any wooded area that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600 AD. It includes:
- ‘ancient semi-natural woodland’ mainly made up of trees and shrubs native to the site, usually arising from natural regeneration
- ‘plantations on ancient woodland sites’ areas of ancient woodland where the former native tree cover has been felled and replaced by planted trees, usually of species not native to the site
Ancient semi-natural woodland and plantations on ancient woodland sites have equal protection under the National Planning Policy Framework.
‘Wooded continuously’ doesn’t mean there has been a continuous tree cover across the entirety of the whole site. Open space, both temporary and permanent, is an important component of woodlands.
Ancient wood pastures and historic parkland can be a distinct form of ancient woodland. Many have not been included on the Ancient Woodland Inventory because their low tree density meant that they didn’t register as woodland on historical maps. Where ancient wood pastures are identified they should receive the same consideration as other forms of ancient woodland.
‘Veteran trees’ are trees which, because of their age, size or condition are of cultural, historical, landscape and nature conservation value. They can be found as individuals or groups within ancient wood pastures, historic parkland, hedgerows, orchards, parks or other areas.
Planning authorities should refuse planning permission for developments that would lead to loss or deterioration of irreplaceable habitats unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the loss. Read more in the National Planning Policy Framework.
Planning authorities should follow the steps on this page when making decisions on planning applications that affect ancient woodland and veteran trees.
Assess the impacts
Planning authorities can use the following inventories to help them decide whether a development will affect ancient woodland:
- Natural England’s ancient woodland inventory download the data or view it on the Magic map system
- ancient tree hunt
Ancient woodlands smaller than 2 hectares may not appear on these inventories. The inventories are sometimes updated and reviewed.
Development can affect ancient woodland and veteran trees, and the wildlife they support, on the site and nearby. Planning authorities can assess the potential impacts using this assessment guide and use this to help them with planning decisions.
Impacts of development in an area of ancient woodland or veteran trees can include:
- damaging or destroying the trees or woodland
- damaging or killing veteran trees or parts of them
- damaging roots and soil, as well as the understorey (all the vegetation under the taller trees)
- polluting the ground
- changing the woodland’s water table or drainage
- damaging archaeological features or heritage assets
Impacts of development nearby can include these effects on the trees and woodland, and the species they support:
- compacting the soil around tree roots
- breaking up or destroying connections between woodland and other habitats
- reducing the amount of semi-natural habitats (like parks) next to ancient woodland
- changing the water table or drainage
- increasing the amount of pollution, including dust
- increasing disturbance to wildlife from additional traffic and visitors
- increasing light pollution
- increasing damaging activities like flytipping and the impact of domestic pets
- changing the landscape character of the area
The developer and planning authority should work together to make sure the authority has enough suitable evidence to make its decision. Planning authorities may ask developers for a tree survey and an ecological survey.
The tree survey should be in accordance with guidance in British Standard BS 5837 ‘Trees in relation to demolition, design and development’. Ecological surveys should follow guidance approved by the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM).
Avoid, reduce or compensate for the impacts
Planning authorities and developers should start by looking for ways to avoid the development affecting ancient woodland or veteran trees eg by redesigning the scheme.
In assessing development proposals, planning authorities must decide on the weight to be given to ancient woodland and veteran trees in individual cases.
If the planning authority decides to grant planning permission in line with the National Planning Policy Framework, it should seek appropriate mitigation or compensation from the developer. As ancient woodland and veteran trees are irreplaceable, discussions on compensation should not form part of the assessment of the merits of the development proposal.
The planning authority should use planning conditions or obligations to secure these mitigation or compensation measures and subsequent ecological monitoring.
Mitigation measures will depend on the development but could include:
- putting up screening barriers to protect the woodland or veteran trees from dust and pollution
- noise reduction measures
- connecting woodland and veteran trees that would be separated by the development eg with green bridges or tunnels
- leaving an appropriate buffer zone of semi-natural habitat between the development and the ancient woodland or tree (depending on the size of development, a minimum buffer should be at least 15 metres)
- incorporating veteran trees within open space
Compensation measures are always a last resort because ancient woodland and veteran trees are irreplaceable. These measures can only partially compensate for damage.
Compensation measures could include:
- planting new native woodland
- restoring or managing other ancient woodland
- management of aged or veteran trees
- replacing lost veteran trees
Plant new native woodland
Establishing new trees and woodland isn’t a direct replacement for lost or damaged trees or woodland. But planning authorities can accept large scale woodland planting as a compensation measure, alongside other measures. This could be on soil that has been moved from the destroyed area of ancient woodland (‘soil translocation’).
However, you can’t move an ancient woodland ecosystem because it isn’t possible to replicate the same conditions at another site.
Restore or manage ancient woodland
Restoring plantations on ancient woodland sites, and improving the way nearby ancient woodland sites are managed, are acceptable ways to compensate for loss or damage to ancient woodland, alongside other measures.
Compensate for the loss of veteran trees
Planting young trees of similar species can help compensate for removed veteran trees. The new trees should be near to the trees they’re replacing. Managing nearby veteran trees (including dead trees) can help towards compensating for lost veteran trees.
The intact hulk of the veteran tree should be left where it is to benefit invertebrates and fungi. If that’s not possible, move it near other veteran trees or parkland in the area.
When to contact Natural England
Natural England is a statutory consultee for proposals that affect any site of special scientific interest. For all other proposals that affect ancient woodland or veteran trees, planning authorities should use the guidance on this page.
Telephone: 0300 060 3900
Land use planning consultations
Crewe Business Park
When to contact the Forestry Commission
The Forestry Commission is a non-statutory consultee. Planning authorities can contact the Forestry Commission for further advice. For all other proposals that affect ancient woodland or veteran trees, planning authorities should use the guidance on this page.
Forestry Commission England’s Area teams deal with enquiries on this matter – please contact them directly.
Telephone: 0300 067 4321
620 Bristol Business Park
Find out more about ancient woodland and development:
- appeal decisions
- ‘keepers of time’ policy statement
- National Planning Policy Framework, paragraph 118
- British Standard 5837:2012 ‘trees in relation to design, demolition and construction’
- Managing ancient and native woodlands practice guide
- Soil translocation - ‘A Habitats Translocation Policy for Britain’. JNCC, 2003, pages 9 to 10
Published: 13 October 2014
Updated: 29 October 2015
- Added definitions of 'wooded continuously' and 'ancient wood-pastures', and clarified the rules about soil translocation in 'plant new native woodland'.
- Clarified the purpose of this standing advice.
- Guide fully updated for publication on GOV.UK after consulting with Natural England experts.
- Guidance temporarily removed, pending revisions.
- Guidance temporarily removed due to pending revisions.
- First published.