Published: 06:00, 16 January 2021
| Updated: 14:24, 18 January 2021
Ancient woodland is being snapped up by private buyers, leading to accusations its natural ambience is being destroyed by new buildings, barbed wire fences, security lights and gravel roads.
It follows the sale of parts of four of Adisham’s seven woods, near Canterbury, which villagers claim has resulted in them being left under threat of over-development.
Now, a Facebook campaign group, Watch Over Adisham’s Woods, has been set up to monitor and report on the activity.
It comes as more and more people are buying up small plots of woodlands of several acres offered for sale across Kent for their own personal wildlife space.
In recent months, 89 acres of Well Wood, 50 acres of Ileden Wood, 6.5 acres of Manciple Wood and a chunk of Woodlands Wood and Oxenden Shaw around Adisham have been sold. And others may soon come onto the market.
But retired journalist David Bradshaw and wife Jilly, from the campaign group, say there are numerous concerns about new “unsightly” work and structures in the woods.
There are also fears of them being carved up into smaller plots which could affect wildlife.
“Barbed-wire fencing has been erected - some of it electrified - security lights installed, and gravel or tarmac-topped roads laid to make the new plots accessible by car,” said Mrs Bradshaw. “Trees have been cleared and up to five buildings erected, some of them surprisingly large. Water and electricity services have even been connected and letterboxes fixed to entrance gates.”
Mr Bradshaw continued: “These developments have been waved through by the local planning authority as permitted development for ‘forestry purposes’, even though the woodlands have been managed perfectly well for centuries without them.”
It is not alleged that the new owners have broken any planning regulations but the campaign group is asking Canterbury City Council to re-examine what is “permitted development” within the woods.
Mr Bradshaw added: “A particular concern is that the erection of forestry buildings raises the potential risk that, through change of use applications, they could evolve over time into homes, offices or warehouses.
“We are not saying that the new owners intend to do that. However, it is the case that the small woodland plots have been sold for prices three to four times their value as purely forestry assets.
“This is a growing environmental issue that needs to be addressed urgently through stronger planning controls, if these ancient woods are not to be lost permanently to over-development.”
Canterbury City Council’s planning enforcement department says it has been approached by villagers about the planning restrictions.
Spokesman Rob Davies said: “We received a complaint about forestry buildings and a fence in November. This was investigated and no planning breach was found in respect of the buildings.
“However, we found that a fence had been put up without planning permission. We carefully considered the impact of the fence and concluded that it does not harm the appearance of the area. The enforcement case has now been closed.
“A further complaint was received about waste tipping and construction of roads just before Christmas and officers will be arranging a site visit to investigate.”
Ruth Feltham, south east manager for Woodlands.co.uk which has sold some of the woods, says buyers overwhelmingly have empathy for the woods and want to care for them.
“We make it clear that buyers are extremely unlikely to be able to build a house in the woods to live in. The sale includes a covenant aimed at helping to protect the woods from any activity considered to be a nuisance, like vehicle racing or clay pigeon shooting. Buyers are also asked not to subsequently divide the ownership of the wood.
“I understand some local people are upset by some of the changes, however the woods to the north and south of Woodlands Road are in private ownership and have been fenced to keep out fly-tippers and other unsavoury activities.”
One of the wood owners, who has erected buildings and fences, was contacted by KentOnline via Woodlands.co.uk but chose not to comment.
'Get closer to the natural world'
There is growing interest from buyers in acquiring small plots of woodlands of several acres for their own personal wildlife space.
Woodlands.co.uk has plots for sale all over Kent, including in Langley Heath, Selling, Petham, Tunbridge Wells and Sissinghurst.
On its website, it says: "Perhaps owning a woodland fulfils a long term dream, of being a land-owner, and of caring for nature. Perhaps you will camp there, picnic there, entertain friends and family, have birthday parties, chill out on your own. Perhaps you will plant a few trees, or maybe a lot of trees. You will get closer to the natural world.
"You will be free to clear the undergrowth to make a level space for the tent, hang your belongings on convenient tree branches. You can clear paths for exploring your wood and cut back brambles and bracken.
"You can make a small clearing and light a campfire and boil a kettle. Friends and family can come along and share this freedom with you, exploring your wood and climbing your trees.
"Sometimes you might work from dawn to dusk, cutting coppice poles, widening the tracks, or fighting the rhododendron.
"You may want to simply sit back and enjoy the wood. By night you will listen to the owls, sneak out to observe the badgers, or just lie looking skyward at the stars."