A needed change in attitude

I was interested to read the article (Observer, February 7), ‘Bid to boost woodland economy’.

As mentioned, the way small woodlands are owned and managed is changing.

Small woodlands are no longer economically viable and many have not been managed for many years, leaving them stagnant and overgrown.

Thousands of acres of woodland are now being safeguarded and conserved by private woodland owners.

We are a group of owners of a wood north of Petworth that has been split into plots which we have bought with the aim of bringing them back into a managed state.

We are planting new trees, coppicing, opening up the canopy to encourage wild flowers and introducing bird boxes.

It is hard work but enjoyable and has health benefits as well as the pleasure of seeing the flora and fauna being improved through proper management.

Getting the younger members of the family away from their computers and out enjoying the countryside is also a bonus and most of us see it as something to pass into future generations.

Many of us are already working with the Woodland Trust and Forestry Commission to develop management plans for our woods and are grateful for any help and support so will be taking up the offer of help made in the article.

The problem with this new type of ownership is the local planning departments in some areas, and Chichester District Council in particular, are not helping in the process.

People who buy small woods will of course want to enjoy them as well as work in them.

Our experience of the planning department is that they perceive us to be a nuisance and a threat to the woods.

We have been made to remove compost toilets (we have to go somewhere!), our campfire sites have been deemed leisure activities, tree camps and rope swings for our children to play on are apparently paintballing activities, and a recent application to erect a small shed to store equipment and shelter from the elements has been rejected as not necessary for forestry purposes – meaning that a full planning application will have to be submitted, which will be rejected and then will have to go to appeal.

The latest move is the imposition of an Article 4 direction on the land, which will require us to submit a full planning application for any work on the land, be it a hole in the ground for a toilet, or erection of a tent or a shed.

Given that the average cost to the taxpayer of processing a planning application is in the region of £650 and the cost of an appeal in the thousands, it has to be asked if this is a good use of taxpayers’ money.

If we want small woods to be managed to increase the range of flora and fauna, owners need to be encouraged and helped, not hindered and burdened with the need to wade through layers of bureaucracy.

No-one wants to see the woods being damaged by insensitive building or improper use, but there has to be a change in attitude to reflect the new style of ownership.

Maureen Chaffe

Roundwyke Copse