Blogger: Phil Pearson, Conservation Officer

Hintlesham Woods, one of the largest blocks of ancient woodland in Suffolk and part of the RSPB’s Wolves Wood Reserve, has received considerable attention over the past twelve to eighteen months. The reason is this: despite it being a nationally important Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for the trees, plants and birds that it supports, National Grid were exploring options that would see a significant area of the wood removed to allow a new overhead power line to be constructed.

As a result the RSPB campaigned vigorously to ensure that any new overhead lines avoided this nationally important woodland. Many people supported our efforts and, thanks in no small part to everyone who wrote to National Grid, options were identified that run the power line around the wood rather than through it. On 19 February, National Grid confirmed a route that will not see a new overhead power line constructed through the wood.

Great. Job done! We’ve protected the woods and the wildlife it supports – or have we? The answer: maybe.

The National Grid is still to finalise its detailed route which means the woods could still be affected by their plans. The RSPB doesn’t want to see any of the woodland impacted. As a result we are following developments closely over the coming months to ensure that National Grid do not consider options that will see the loss of trees on the edge of the woodland.

Some may say that losing a few trees will not have any significant impacts, but the RSPB considers that any loss of woodland wouldn’t be acceptable. Why?

Well firstly, we are dealing with ancient woodland here. As highlighted by the Woodland Trust, this type of habitat is irreplaceable. It is not possible to simply plant trees on a new site and claim that this provides a suitable replacement, as the woodland that develops will depend on the soil, water availability, and other factors that enable plant and tree species that are typical of ancient woodlands to thrive.

What’s more, Hintlesham Woods is a SSSI. This indicates that the site is nationally important and there must be a presumption that such sites should not be damaged, especially where alternatives exist. Even a small amount of change on the edge of the wood could allow increased noise, light or other factors to penetrate further into the woodland. This can increase disturbance and result in species that have a preference for larger blocks of woodland to be displaced. The RSPB has worked hard to manage the woodland for species such as marsh tit which have declined significantly over the past twenty years. Anything that could jeopardise the effectiveness of our management for such species would not be acceptable. 

So, whilst the RSPB is supportive of National Grid’s recognition of the importance of Hintlesham Woods in their current plans, we are now looking for a final commitment that there will be no damage at all from their proposed scheme. We continue to discuss the project with National Grid through stakeholder groups, and will be reviewing information later in the year that will be submitted for public consultation. At that time we would be grateful for the support of as many people as possible, hopefully to show appreciation for how National Grid have addressed wildlife impacts around this site rather than defending  the site from damage once more.