Ashdown Forest is a Special Protection Area, Special Area of Protection and Site of Special Scientific Interest
Originally a deer hunting forest in Norman times, Ashdown Forest is now one of the largest free public access space in the South East. It is a great place for walking and enjoying spectacular views over the Sussex countryside and is known the world over as the 'home' of Winnie-the-Pooh.
The Forest is at the heart of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and has national and international protection because of its wildlife. Nearly two thirds of its 6500 acres (2500 hectares) are heathland, amounting to 2.5% of the UK's extent of this rare habitat.
ESCCAN have contacted Wealden District Council for clarification on their responsibilities regarding aviation emissions from low flying aircraft over Ashdown Forest. Their website states, "In addition to recreational impacts, the Council is also obliged to assess all development which would, either alone or in combination with other development, increase the level of nitrogen deposition on the Ashdown Forest SAC. When considering nitrogen deposition the focus will be on the emissions from motorised vehicular traffic." See below for our letter addressing these concerns.
Regarding Pollution testing on the Ashdown Forest
4th April 2016
I have carried out some research with the help of members of ESCCAN and have a few questions I believe should be asked over how the Ashdown Forest is being protected and the levels of testing being carried out.
The Ashdown Forest is a special protection area as it is used by 1% or more of the Great Britain population of species of European importance listed in annex 1 of the birds directive (79/409/EEC) which includes the Dartford Warbler Sylvia undated and the Nightjar Camprimulgus europaeus.
Basically, the conservation objectives are to protect the Ashdown Forest SPA from any further deterioration. This is achieved by restricting building which will have a negative impact on the area from nitrogen deposit which enriches the soil and degrades the flora and fauna of the forest. The cause is the vehicle movements generated by the increase of population and business.
The result of the above is the 15km zone of influence.
In a recent appeal brought by Wealden District Council, heard by Mrs Justice Lang DBE, it was made clear that testing was under way and that it would take around a year for the results of this testing to be published. I also note the comments made on pages 27&28 When Justice Lang refers to the findings of Dr Holman at paragraphs 205&207 of her report that, on the basis of the traffic modelling conducted by knight which took into account economic and population growth, the in-combination figure was 1815 Annual Average Daily Movements (AADT), considerably higher than the Councils figures, and in excess of the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (DMRB) limit. Mrs Justice Lang went on to say that while she appreciated that Dr Holmans expert view was that in-combination assessment was incorrect, it does indicate a nitrogen load which is potentially damaging to the SAC, if accurate.
I believe that this report has to carry a significant amount of interest to parties that wish to protect the forest and the environment we live in. Gatwick Airport Limited (GAL) wishes to be a consultative body on any planning issue that can have an effect on the operations of their industry, the airport. I am led to believe from conversation with Councillors that GAL was asked about the effects that aircraft pollution may have on the forest, the respose I am informed, as aircraft fly in general at over 7000 feet over the forest, aircraft do not have a negative impact. As a result of this Wealden are now testing for pollution on the forest but excluding testing for the effects aircraft may be having. I believe this is wrong under the precautionary principle. The point of the case brought by Wealden is a precautionary one. They therefore have a duty to carry this through if evidence can be brought to show that aircraft are flying below 7000ft a height that will have a negative impact on the Ashdown Forest.
In 2005 a case was brought by residents in Dedham Vale which was on the basis of noise alone. The area in an A.O.N.B was deemed to be a quiet area (as is the Ashdown Forest).The case was heard and upheld even though the aircraft were flying at 10,000 feet and as a result the aircraft routes were altered. It is worthy of note that Dedham Vale does not have the protection that the Ashdown Forest does under European Habitats regulations.
We have taken a sample of aircraft flight heights over the AF on three random days. They were recorded in TN6 1RB and provide the following data. 17th December 2015 there were 33 flights under 4000ft and 2 under 3000ft. On the 8th January 2015 20 flights under 4000ft and 3 under 3000ft and on 5th January 2015, 31 flights under 4000ft and 4 under 3000ft.
It is not unreasonable to assume that under narrowed flight paths this effect would become a serious issue on the Ashdown Forest. Furthermore in the event of a second runway under the precautionary principle this would be devastating to the protected species and the local community.
It must therefore follow to prevent any challenge to the work carried out by Wealden in regard to testing for pollution; the possibility of the effects of GAL on the Ashdown Forest must be fully examined. Furthermore we believe that a legal challenge could be brought against GAL under European legislation, requiring them to consider the effect of aircraft, on a protected area, that is also regarded as a quiet area, and afforded the protection up held by Mrs Justice Lang DBE.
As a last point I would suggest that the effect of the Appeal should preclude a second runway and East Sussex County Council should not support a second runway as a consequence of this.
Letter to Wealden District Council from ESCCAN highlighting the issue of aviation emissions over Ashdown Forest from low flying aircraft. Wealden DC do not support expansion at Gatwick. Read more here
East Sussex County Council: the only council surrounding Gatwick to support expansion at the airport!