Forests will be chopped down across England to make way for traditional heathland under Government plans to boost rare wildlife.
By Louise Gray, Environment CorrespondentPublished: 7:30AM BST 01 Apr 2010
The new policy to convert forests to 'open habitat' will increase the area of heathland across England by 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres) every year for at least the next five years.
This will mean chopping down thousands of hectares of mostly commercial conifers to allow rare animals like sand lizards, adder, woodlark and curlew to return.
It is estimated that 80 per cent of lowland heathland has been lost in the past 200 years to plantation forestry, agriculture and housing development.
The Department for the Environment and Forestry Commission policy for 'Restoration of Open Habitats from Woods and Forests' is designed to return much of the land taken by commercial forestry to wildlife.
Huw Irranca-Davies, Minister for the Natural and Marine Environment, said 'woodland removal' will be balanced by planting trees elsewhere and communities will be consulted.
"Woodlands and forests provide a natural tool to help stop damaging climate change and this solution balances the need to provide more habitats for our wildlife, while still increasing our woodland and forest cover to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," he said.
The RSPB wants the government to double the 55,000 hectares (135,000 acres) of lowland heathland in England by chopping down the non-native conifers that stand in the way and has already made a start at its Farnham Reserve in Surrey. More commerical woodland in the area and around the home counties and southern England is expected to be targetted in the future.
Dr Mark Avery, of the RSPB, said wildlife like the Dartford warbler and silver-studded blue butterfly will return.
“Restoring heathland which has been planted with conifers is an easy way of making a big difference for threatened species. Once the conifers are removed the seed bank begins to germinate again and soon the heathland plants start to reappear – before long you have a landscape teeming with life once more," he said.
During the consultation period, the Confederation of Forest Industries expressed concern that the policy would damage the timber industry and even cause global warming because of 'deforestation'. The organisation was not available to comment on the new policy.
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