Woodland surveys

Surrey has some of the most beautiful woods in England and much more woodland than most other counties. Woodland is not distributed evenly across the county, it is concentrated in the boroughs and districts of Waverley, Guildford, Surrey Heath, Runnymede, Elmbridge and Mole Valley.

Trees and woodlands enhance quality of life, giving those living and working here the advantages of green leafy surroundings, pleasant views and probably better quality air. There are many more advantages to being the most wooded county, but there are also many issues to do with the protection and management of our trees and woodlands.

Some of Surrey's woodlands are wonderfully healthy, well managed, well used and cherished and we should celebrate them. However, others need much greater care if they are to survive for future generations to enjoy. There have been two surveys produced in the last ten years which aim to show what needs doing and point the way to how it can be done.

Surrey Woodland Study 2008

The Surrey Woodland Study 2008 set out a plan for action to make the most of Surrey's woodland assets and to care for them. The study followed a similar format to the South East England Forestry Framework published in 2004. What characterises woodland in the whole of the southeast is reflected in Surrey in microcosm:

  • Precious but threatened ancient woodlands.
  • A serious lack of woodland management and management skills in key areas.
  • Woodlands whose contribution to the county's biodiversity is often endangered.
  • An ever-growing pressure for more roads, houses and airport expansion which can, at least, be mitigated by safeguarding a wooded landscape.

The study included a description of Surrey's woodlands which was followed by an analysis of the issues facing them and the strategic context. Four sections discussed the implications and implementation of the four objectives set out in the South East Forestry Framework. Action proposals were set out to deal with the major issues in each section of the study. If you would like a copy of the 2008 Study, please email: mwcd@surreycc.gov.uk.

Ancient Woodland

Ancient woodland is land that has been wooded continuously since at least 1600AD. Because they have developed over such long timescales, ancient woods often have features such as relatively undisturbed soils and communities of plants and animals that depend on the stable conditions ancient woodland provides, some of which are rare and vulnerable. They are also living history books, with features such as mediaeval boundary banks, charcoal hearths and old coppice stools that reflect their past management and usefulness.

Revised Ancient Woodland Inventory for Surrey 2011

The revised Ancient Woodland Inventory for Surrey, published in 2011, was the culmination of two and a half years work resulting in one of the most accurate and reliable habitat inventories in England. Among the organisations that contributed are Surrey County Council, the Borough & District councils, the Forestry Commission, Natural England, Surrey Wildlife Trust, Surrey Biodiversity Information Centre and the Surrey Hills area of outstanding natural beauty.

Previous to this revision project, planning authorities had relied upon the longstanding Ancient Woodland Inventory for Surrey to determine whether a development would impact upon ancient woodland. Although accurate, the dataset has had very little interim revision since publication in 1988 and its effectiveness for informing planning decisions was severely hampered by its general exclusion of sites smaller than two hectares in size and boundary accuracy.

Surrey is the most wooded county in England with 22.4% of the land covered by trees. As the most wooded county in England, consideration of ancient woodland (an irreplaceable and biodiverse habitat) within the planning system is thus of particular importance. In the revised inventory all ancient woodlands in Surrey below two hectares in size have been identified and added for the first time, leading to a considerable increase in the total number and area of recognised sites. The distribution of new sites within the county varies; nonetheless there will be an increase (of varying magnitude) for every local authority region.

As well as the recognition of sites below two hectares, this revision project has completely reassessed, and where necessary amended, the original 1988 inventory. The use of Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping software has allowed the boundaries of all previously recognised ancient woodlands to be amended to match Ordnance Survey's standardised MasterMap dataset; significantly increasing their accuracy.

If you would like a copy of the revised 2011 Woodland Study, please email: mwcd@surreycc.gov.uk.

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