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Case study: Evaluation of woodland affected proposed limestone quarry extension

Client: The Woodland Trust

Brief: To evaluate the ecological quality and ancient status of woodland affected by a proposed quarry extension in Rutland.

A proposed extension to an existing limestone quarry includes areas of woodland. The Woodland Trust wanted information on the quality of this woodland and an indication of whether it was ancient, to help develop a case against the quarrying.

Many woodland species are slow to colonise new areas, and this means that the older a woodland is, the more woodland species it tends to support. Land in Britain which has been continuously wooded since the wildwood was cleared many centuries ago is called Ancient Woodland and is given extra protection, recognising its much higher biodiversity. The formal definition of Ancient Woodland is land which has been wooded since before1600 AD. In practice the oldest maps which are detailed enough to show individual woods accurately usually date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It is thought that little planting of new woods (secondary woods) occurred before about 1800, so these maps are generally good evidence of whether or not woods are ancient.

We looked at old maps of the area. Most of the woods were shown clearly on detailed tithe maps of the two parishes involved, or were mentioned in the tithe records. Land use on tithe map. These records were rather late (1846), so we also looked for older maps. We found various maps of the whole of Rutlandshire from the early 19th century, and although the woods were omitted from some, the southern block was clearly shown on others. This provides firm evidence that a large part of the woods were in existence soon after 1800, and so are likely to be ancient.

We also carried out a botanical survey of the woods. They turned out to be rather variable. Some areas were secondary in character, and may have been planted or heavily grazed at some time in the past. Other areas are much more diverse, especially around the many small round pits which lie scattered through the woods. These pits appear to be natural sink-holes formed by roof-falls in caves in the underlying limestone. Holes in the base of some of these pits are used by badger Meles meles, and the caves beneath may also be used by bats - both badgers and bats are protected species in Britain.

We advised that the woods affected by the proposed quarrying are probably ancient, and that quarrying poses serious risks to protected species. The sink-holes themselves may also be of conservation value as geomorphological or palaeontological features.

The case has not yet been resolved, and it remains to be seen whether a formal planning application will be pursued for the quarrying.

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