On 27th November 2017 Natural England and the Forestry Commission updated their Standing Advice on Ancient Woodland and Veteran Trees, which will potentially have a major impact on our use of the buffer zones for engineering features and recreational uses, particularly SuDS features.
More worryingly, where ‘pollution’ (for example run-off during or after construction) and ‘trampling’ (usually from the increased public/residents use) are considered a potential issue, the buffer may need to increase to at least 50m, making some sites undevelopable.
The new advice indicates that:
- 15m buffer remains the minimum acceptable standoff for Ancient Semi-Natural Woodland
However, where ‘pollution’ (for example run-off during or after construction) and ‘trampling’ (usually from the increased public/residents use) are considered a potential issue, the buffer may need to be increased to at least 50m.
The Natural England and Forestry Commission preference is therefore towards the provision of larger buffer zones, something which should be given careful consideration at the feasibility stage and when carrying out due-diligence exercises. It is now clear that buffer zones (specifically the 15m zone) should not contain SUDs or services, and should comprise semi-natural habitat.
- Buffer of 15 times the stem diameter or 5m from the edge of the canopy, whichever is larger, for veteran trees
This will mean the possible provision of much larger buffers than typically provided in the past, and could be used by LPAs to restrict development, using arguments such as trees being near-veteran status, or even, in the case of one Council, future-veterans. The status of individual trees, as well as woodlands, needs to be carefully considered in the future.