Activists fear for the future of rare wildlife if proposals to expand a quarry into old-growth forest go ahead.
The proposed extension to the Hermitage Quarry, located west of Maidstone, could see at least 50 hectares of the old lost oak woodland. The site is likely home to a number of protected species, including rare bats, birds like the nightjar, insects like the green tiger beetle and dormice, according to the Woodland Trust.
The career is one of two remaining Kentish Ragstone quarries owned by the Gallagher aggregates company and has the capacity to produce over two million tonnes of aggregates per year.
Kent County Council (KCC) has launched a consultation on whether quarry extension should be pursued in its mine site plan. The consultation will continue until July 25.
In response, the Woodland Trust has launched a campaign to stop what it claims is one of the greatest losses of ancient woodland to development in 21st century England.
Trust campaign leader Jack Taylor said the proposal was “appalling”. “We are stunned,” he said.
“Not only could this result in the loss of over 50 hectares of old-growth forest, but any remaining old-growth forest would be severely impacted – with huge effects on local wildlife and the destruction of a vital carbon reservoir.
“This proposal could destroy an area of old growth forest greater than the losses suffered by HS2 and the Lower Thames Crossing projects combined.
“We are in the throes of a climate crisis and facing widespread loss of biodiversity, so it is imperative that we oppose the destruction of such a large amount of irreplaceable ancient forest.”
Ancient timber is increasingly rare in the UK, covering only 2.5% of the land. Their soils, and the complex ecosystems they contain, cannot be regenerated or replaced.
Yet according to Kent County Council, Oaken Wood is classed as a ‘Plantation on a Formerly Wooded Site (PAWS)’ which consists of ‘non-native tree species’, in this case a chestnut coppice, according to a document. who recorded a public meeting that took place on July 7.
Taylor explained that although the site had been replanted, the PAWS were “crucial” to retaining old growth characteristics, such as undisturbed soil, soil flora and fungi.
“Oaken Wood includes indicator species such as bluebell, gelderland rose, tutsan and enchanter’s nightshade,” he added.
“PAWS are ancient woods and should be treated as such. To suggest otherwise is totally out of step with government definitions and guidance.”