NEARLY 250 ancient woods in Scotland are under threat from built development, it was revealed yesterday, as the number at risk across the UK topped 1,000 for the first time since records began.

Figures released by the charity Woodland Trust show it is aware of 1,064 ancient woodlands at risk of damage or destruction – the highest number since it started compiling the data in 1999.

They include 244 woods north of the Border, including three areas of ancient woodland in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, that the Trust warns will be lost should permission be given to go ahead with the controversial Europark development of more than 2,500 new homes between the M8 and Airdrie.

The Trust has seen 506 ancient woods threatened across Scotland since 1999.

Some 173 have suffered loss or damage, while 89 woods have been saved.

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George Anderson, of Woodland Trust Scotland, said: “Just as everyone is grasping the importance of creating more woodland to counter the climate emergency, we must not drop the ball on the woods we already have.

“Ancient woods are rare, precious and irreplaceable, yet we are chipping away at them.”

Ancient woods are areas of woodland that have persisted on maps since 1600 in England and Wales, and 1750 in Scotland.

They cover just 2.4 per cent of the UK but, relatively undisturbed by human development, are home to unique and complex communities of plants, fungi, insects and other micro-organisms that have developed over centuries.

Of the 1,064 UK woods currently under threat, some 801 are “live planning applications”, while the remaining 263 are included in various council site allocation plans – areas outlined for future development such as housing, business use or leisure facilities.

Site allocations are the main threat, followed by housing (175), utilities (148), railways (112), roads (91), agriculture (78) and leisure or sport (49).

Scotland’s 244 threatened woods include 231 live planning applications and 13 site allocations. They include ancient woods in Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire, which is threatened by a proposal for 36 houses; and woodland in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, where mature trees could be removed to make way for a car park.

The biggest single development project threatening ancient woods in the UK is the planned high-speed railway HS2.

The Woodland Trust says at least 108 ancient woods will be lost or damaged by the project in its current form.

The Woodland Trust, the largest woodland conservation charity in the UK, with more than 500,000 supporters, has already recorded 800 ancient woods that have suffered loss or damage from development since 1999. The number includes woods where only small parts were felled, as well as instances where development has encroached so close to the wood as to put it at risk of pollution, disturbance or invasive species, such as non-native garden plants spreading.

A total of 1,101 ancient woods have been recorded as “saved”, although the Trust warns they include “stay of execution” cases where it had objected to a previous threat and a decision was made locally to save them, and in some cases the same woods could come under threat again.

In England there are some 741 ancient woods currently under threat, while in Wales there are 77. In Northern Ireland two are at risk.

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Last month the charity wrote letters of objection for 46 different planning applications where ancient woodland was at risk of damage or destruction.

The Woodland Trust is not a statutory consultee on cases where ancient wood is threatened and it relies on specially-trained volunteers who scour weekly planning lists for potential cases, as well as on information shared by members of the public.

Abi Bunker, the Woodland Trust’s director of conservation and external affairs, said: “We are in the grip of both a nature and a climate emergency.

“Recently, political parties have made bold promises about tree planting. This is welcome, but the first step in helping trees to combat climate change and helping our threatened nature is to protect the valuable trees and woods we already have.

“These new figures make for depressing reading. What’s even more depressing is that these are only the cases we know about. There could be many more woods under threat.

“We need real protection for irreplaceable ancient wooded habitats and trees, and legislation, policies and resources that are fit to address the challenges we face from tree diseases. Prevention is far cheaper than a cure, with the total cost of ash dieback to the UK estimated to be £15 billion.

“Ancient woodland is one of our most precious natural habitats; these complex ecosystems have evolved over centuries and are home to thousands of species, many of which rely on it for their survival. Losing ancient woodlands is a travesty, especially to inappropriate developments that could go elsewhere.”Ancient woods currently under threat from development across the UK include Nun Bank Wood, the supposed resting place of Robin Hood in West Yorkshire, which will be affected if a relief road around Kirklees proposed by Kirklees Council, West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Calderdale Council, gets the green light.

In response to the growing threats, the Woodland Trust is seeking to increase its number of volunteer threat detectors who can keep abreast of planning applications for any that impact ancient woodland. Once they alert the Trust to an application that threatens ancient woodland it is able to gather evidence and formulate effective responses.

The charity currently has around 60 active threat detectors across the UK.

Members of the public are also encouraged to report any threats to ancient woodland by visiting the Woodland Trust website.

A further Scottish example is Maverston Wood in Moray, where the Trust has objected to a proposal to formation 28 dwellinghouse plots “on the basis of direct loss to Maverston Wood”.