LETTER: Small wood is ‘ancient’

We are writing to you following the recent articles about the proposed A27 Arundel bypass that were published in the Littlehampton Gazette.

We are the owners of a small woodland, immediately south west of Arundel, within the wider complex of Tortington Common and Binsted Woods, and part of the South Downs National Park. Unfortunately, our wood is directly in the path of the prefered ‘off-line’ route for a new Arundel bypass, the pink-blue route.

The statement made on behalf of Arundel Town Council (in the articles mentioned in the previous paragraph) about the woodland in the path of the council’s currently preferred bypass route is factually incorrect.

It has been reported that Arundel mayor councillor James Stewart stated that the pink-blue route ‘does not go through ancient woodland’.

Unfortunately, it seems that councillor Stewart has been misinformed. The proposed route crosses the woodland of Tortington Common which is an ‘Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland (ASNW)’ with parts being ‘Plantation on Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS)’. These classifications confirm that the area has been wooded continuously since at least 1600AD and both of these classifications have equal protection under the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework.

It is easy to see how people might not consider the woodland of Tortington Common as ancient. It was incorrectly labelled as ‘lower-quality woodland’ and ‘mainly coniferous woodland’ in the Halcrow Group 2002 South Coast Multi Modal Study (SoCoMMs) on the transport strategy for the south coast.

Clearly the woods were not surveyed correctly at that time. When walking through the wood, those who know no better may only see trees that do not appear to be very ancient. They see the effects of recent management but miss the point that ancient woodland takes hundreds of years to establish and is considered important for its wildlife, soils, recreation, cultural value, history and contribution to landscapes, as well as for its trees.

Plantations on such a site do not reduce the importance of the valuable seed bank that has built up over hundreds of years. We are very fortunate that within our own wood there is an impressive yew tree that is estimated to be more than 450 years old and a number of sizeable oak and sweet chestnut trees. We have also identified another 15 tree species, including the now rare black poplar, all within some 4.5 acres.

The Tortington Common (and nearby Binsted) woods are classified as ancient in the Ancient Woodland Inventory for West Sussex (2010) and are recognised by the South Downs National Park (which it became part of in 2009) and of course by the Woodland Trust. The area was classified as a Site of Nature Conservation Importance (SNCI) by West Sussex County Council.

The value of ancient woodland cannot be underestimated. The Government recognises the value of ancient woodland as they are classified as a priority habitat in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee).

The Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology (in Postnote 465, June, 2014) has this to say: “Ancient woodlands are irreplaceable features of our landscapes that can be high in biodiversity or cultural value. They cannot be recreated, as their composition is a product of environmental conditions and historic management that will not occur again.”

This is not to mention the question of carbon and carbon sequestration. Ancient woodland is a long-standing carbon sink, storing carbon in its soil and trees.

It is arguably this country’s most important natural carbon sink after peat bog lands. Digging up such a carbon store to create more roads for more cars to emit carbon dioxide will release tons of stored carbon, not to mention the carbon cost of the construction process itself. It is increasingly understood that older trees contribute more to carbon conversion than younger trees do due to the larger area of leaf cover, so planting new trees to replace those that have been sacrificed is not an equal replacement.

This considerable impact on this country’s carbon emissions must not be ignored and the carbon cost of the different road improvement options must be taken into account as part of the selection process.

Surely improvements to an existing road rather than constructing a totally new off-line bypass is more cost effective environmentally as well as financially?

Arundel SCATE has in the past arranged two guided walks for residents along the proposed pink-blue route which of course came through our wood.

The walks were well attended and we were happy to meet with walkers and explain about the value of woodlands to them.

We have now written to councillor Stewart and extended an invitation to him, with any of his fellow members of the town council, to join us in our wood to see the conservation work that we are carrying out and to discuss the value of ancient woodlands.

It is important that people have accurate information when considering options and we would urge you to please to print our response so that it puts right an incorrect statement that would surely mislead your readers.

Julie & Tony Upson

Noor Wood

Nr Arundel

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