Little hedgehog

‘Irreplaceable habitats’ could be saved with £1bn five-year plan

Image credit: Dreasmtime

A £1bn five-year plan is needed to save England’s ancient forests, which are more polluted, damaged, and contain less wildlife than at any other point in history, the Woodland Trust has said.

The charity warned that this is the last generation with the time to protect and restore unique habitats such as the temperate rainforests in the west of the UK.

Its plan, which it said would cost four per cent of the Government’s road building budget and one per cent of HS2’s price tag, sets out how to reverse the problems identified in its 2021 report State of the UK’s Woods and Trees.

That report showed how only 9 per cent of England’s native woods are in good condition and one third of woodland species are diminishing.

The lesser spotted woodpecker has declined by 83 per cent since 1970 and hazel dormice by 48 per cent in the last 10 years while hedgehogs, once a common nocturnal garden visitor, have declined by 70 per cent since 2000, the report found.

According to the Woodland Trust, deforestation, loss of hedgerows and pollution are the main drivers of these declines.

Last year, the Government committed to protecting and restoring 30 per cent of nature on land and sea by 2030, and the Woodland Trust stresses forests are key to that.

“This is a crisis which has sped up within the lifetimes of many of our political leaders so we’re asking them to act and invest in the restoration of these irreplaceable habitats,” said Dr Darren Moorcroft, the charity’s chief executive.

“Central to averting a catastrophe in our natural world, this investment is a no-brainer. Invest today and see the benefits literally grow and deliver for people and nature for decades.

Moorcroft added that compared to the cost of more than £27bn being spent over five years on a roads investment strategy, our call to action asks less than 4 per cent of that.

“The cost also equates to building just three miles of HS2 track. The time is now, as we know we’ll all pay a much higher price if Government misses this opportunity to act.”

The trust said half of all the ancient woodland left in England, including temperate rainforest, is under “outdated” plantation forestry, which was planted for quick-yield timber but has suffocated local species and caused a rapid loss of life.

Conservationists hope that with the right help, native tree seeds lying dormant in these areas will germinate and regrow the original forest.

Funding of around £200m will be needed to restore half of the 90,000 hectares of privately owned ancient woodland, said the trust, which pointed to one of its projects on Dartmoor as proof that restoration is possible.

Along with the National Trust, it has cleared artificially planted conifers in Fingle Woods to make room for native species including birds, bats, lizards, and dormice, which after 10 years are returning, it said.

The Woodland Trust also recommends increasing tree cover in towns and cities to a minimum of 16 per cent and proposes ensuring that all new housing developments guarantee a minimum of 30 per cent tree cover.

“Stepping stones” for wildlife could also be created, such as small copses that would allow animals to rest and take shelter.

A poll carried out by the Woodland Trust released back in March found that a third of young people in Britain have admitted to feeling scared and pessimistic about climate change.

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles