Ancient woodland and veteran trees: protecting them from development

What planning authorities should consider for developments affecting ancient woodland and veteran trees.

You should use this Natural England and Forestry Commission guidance (known as ‘standing advice’) to help you decide on a planning application affecting ancient woodland and veteran trees.

Standing advice is a ‘material’ planning consideration. This means you should take it into account when making decisions on relevant planning applications. It replaces the need for each agency to give an individual response to planning consultations. It has the same authority as an individual response.

Natural England and the Forestry Commission will only provide bespoke advice as set out in the when to contact sections or in exceptional circumstances.

Ancient woodland, and trees classed as ‘ancient’, ‘veteran’ or ‘aged’ are irreplaceable.

Ancient woodland

Ancient woodland takes hundreds of years to establish and is important for its:

  • wildlife (which include rare and threatened species)
  • soils
  • recreational value
  • cultural, historical and landscape value

It’s any area that’s 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 - replanted with conifer and broadleaved trees that retain ancient woodland features, such as undisturbed soil, ground flora and fungi

They have equal protection in the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).

Other distinct forms of ancient woodland are:

  • wood pastures identified as ancient
  • historic parkland, which is protected as a heritage asset in the NPPF

Many of these don’t appear on the Ancient Woodland Inventory because their low tree density didn’t register as woodland on historic maps.

You should give consideration to wood pasture identified as ancient in planning decisions in the same way as other ancient woodland.

‘Wooded continuously’ doesn’t mean there’s been a continuous tree cover across the whole site. Not all trees in the woodland have to be old. Open space, both temporary and permanent, is an important component of ancient woodlands.

Veteran trees

Veteran trees in this guide refers to veteran, ancient, or aged trees. They have cultural, historical, landscape and nature conservation value because of their age, size, or condition. They can be individual trees or groups of trees within wood pastures, historic parkland, hedgerows, orchards, parks, or other areas.

Making decisions

You should refuse planning permission for developments - unless the need for, and benefits of, the development in that location clearly outweigh the:

  • loss or deterioration of ancient woodland
  • loss of veteran trees

You should also consider:

Read more in the NPPF.

Assess the impacts

You should follow the steps on this page when making decisions on planning applications that affect ancient woodland (including wood pastures identified as ancient) and veteran trees.

Consult inventories

You can use the following inventories to help you decide whether a development will affect ancient woodland or ancient and veteran trees:

Ancient woodlands smaller than 2 hectares are unlikely to appear on these inventories. You should use this guidance for all ancient woodlands whether they’re on the inventories or not. They are updated and reviewed from time to time.

You should contact Natural England if a site has evidence of ancient woodland on it and is not on the inventory.

Potential impacts

Development can affect ancient woodland and veteran trees, and the wildlife they support, when it takes place on the site, or nearby. You can assess the potential impacts using this assessment guide and use this to help you with planning decisions.

Direct impacts of development on ancient woodland or veteran trees include:

  • damaging or destroying all or part of them (including their soils, ground flora, or fungi)
  • damaging roots and understorey (all the vegetation under the taller trees)
  • damaging or compacting soil around the tree roots
  • polluting the ground around them
  • changing the water table or drainage of woodland or individual trees
  • damaging archaeological features or heritage assets

Nearby development can also have an indirect impact on ancient woodland or veteran trees and the species they support. These can include:

  • breaking up or destroying connections between woodlands and veteran trees
  • reducing the amount of semi-­natural habitats next to ancient woodland
  • increasing the amount of pollution, including dust
  • increasing disturbance to wildlife from additional traffic and visitors
  • increasing light pollution
  • increasing damaging activities like fly-­tipping and the impact of domestic pets
  • changing the landscape character of the area

Providing evidence

You and the developer should work together to make sure there’s enough suitable evidence to make a decision. You 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 impacts, reduce impacts, and compensate as a last resort

You and the developer should identify ways to avoid negative effects on ancient woodland or veteran trees, such as selecting an alternative site for development, or redesigning the scheme.

You should decide on the weight given to ancient woodland and veteran trees on a case-by-case basis, taking account of the NPPF and relevant development plan policies.

If you decide to grant planning permission, you should use planning conditions or obligations to make sure the developer either:

  • avoids damage
  • mitigates against damage
  • compensates for loss or damage (use as a last resort)

Ancient woodland or veteran trees are irreplaceable, so you should not consider proposed compensation measures as part of your assessment of the benefits of the development proposal.

You should not take account of the existing condition of ancient woodland (if this is poor) as a factor in favour of the development proposal, because you can usually improve its condition with good management proposals. It may be relevant to consider the scope to improve its condition as part of the compensation measures, if you decide to grant permission for development.

Mitigation measures

Mitigation measures will depend on the development but could include:

  • putting up screening barriers to protect woodland or veteran trees from dust and pollution
  • noise reduction measures
  • leaving an appropriate buffer zone of semi-natural habitat between the development and the ancient woodland or tree (depending on the size of the development, a minimum buffer should be at least 15 metres)
  • leaving a buffer zone at least 15 times larger than the diameter of a veteran tree or 5m from the edge of its canopy, if that’s greater
  • protecting veteran trees by designing open space around them
  • identifying and protecting trees that could become veteran trees in the future

Compensation measures

Compensation measures are always a last resort because ancient woodland and veteran trees and their habitat are irreplaceable. These measures can only partially compensate for damage.

Compensation measures should be appropriate for the site and for the scale and nature of the impacts on it. A compensation package could include:

  • planting new native woodland or wood pasture
  • restoring or managing other ancient woodland, including plantations on ancient woodland sites, and wood pasture
  • connecting woodland and veteran trees separated by development with green bridges, tunnels or hedgerows
  • long-term management plans for new woodland and ancient woodland
  • managing 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. You 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’). You can’t move an ancient woodland ecosystem because:

  • it isn’t possible to replicate the same conditions at another site
  • it’s no longer an ancient woodland

New woodland creation can be effective where it links to and extends existing woodland as long as it doesn’t affect:

  • other semi-natural habitats
  • heritage features

Restore or improve ancient woodland

You can partially compensate for loss or damage of ancient woodland by improving:

  • and restoring plantations on ancient woodland sites
  • the management of nearby ancient woodland sites and connecting them better to semi-natural habitat
  • the condition of important features of ancient woodland
  • access for management purposes

You can partially compensate for loss or damage to wood pasture by restoring soils and pasture.

Management plans should follow the UK Forestry Standard. You can monitor the ecology of the site, over an agreed period, to help you advise on management measures.

Compensate for the loss of veteran trees

You can partially compensate by planting:

  • young trees of the same species with space around each one to develop an open crown
  • new trees near to the trees they’re replacing

As a last resort, manage nearby veteran trees (including dead trees) to help prolong their life. You should get advice from a registered tree consultant (‘arboriculturist’) before carrying out work by contacting either professional body:

Leave the intact hulk of the veteran tree where it is (preferably standing) 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, you should use the guidance on this page.

Consultation service

Natural England
Electra Way
Crewe Business Park


When to contact the Forestry Commission

The Forestry Commission is a non-statutory consultee. You should use the guidance on this page.

Contact your Forestry Commission England area office for individual advice that’s not covered on this page.

Forestry Commission
620 Bristol Business Park
Coldharbour Lane
BS16 1EJ

Telephone: 0300 067 4000

Further information

Policy and standards

Other useful information

Published 13 October 2014
Last updated 4 January 2018 + show all updates
  1. The advice on the appropriate size of buffer zones (under ‘Mitigation measures’) has changed. The last version suggested a 50 metre (m) zone to mitigate the effects of pollution and trampling. Following queries about the 50m zone, this text has been removed. Natural England and the Forestry Commission are reviewing the feedback they've received.
  2. Republished as part of the biennial update.
  3. Added definitions of 'wooded continuously' and 'ancient wood-pastures', and clarified the rules about soil translocation in 'plant new native woodland'.
  4. Clarified the purpose of this standing advice.
  5. Guide fully updated for publication on GOV.UK after consulting with Natural England experts.
  6. Guidance temporarily removed, pending revisions.
  7. Guidance temporarily removed due to pending revisions.
  8. First published.