Work has now started on the link road between Knowls Lane and Oldham Road, including the destruction of an ancient woodland site which was fiercely contested by residents and local councillors at the planning stage.
New research has shown that it is likely that that was the only ancient woodland site in the area. Local archaeologist Jane Barker researched maps of all the local wooded areas of note, but none of them fulfilled the likely criteria for being ancient woodland.
Jane said: “This just shows the importance of the ancient woodland at Knowls Lane, and how unjustified this decision was.”
“Ancient woodland is so important to our country because it provides a local ecology that has been undisturbed for hundreds of years. It is rare, and often has not been identified, but for us to find it on our doorstep and see it destroyed is heartbreaking.”
The Woodland Trust defines ancient woodland as an area of land where there has been a continuous cover of trees since 1600 and currently it makes up only 2% of British woodland. Until 2014, these trees could not be designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest but the organisms living on them or in them could be. Also unlike buildings, there is no formal recognition for old trees – no listing status, no plaques and no guarantee of their protection.
Local councillor Sam Al-Hamdani, who worked with Jane on the research, said: “Jane did some remarkable work in challenging the previous decision. Having seen the importance of ancient woodland from that, I first of all put forward a motion to Council to embed future protection of ancient woodland in the forthcoming local plan.
“Having someone with the knowledge, commitment and access to identify potential sites was a real opportunity, and it is really sad to find that none of the other sites in the area would qualify.
“It just goes to show how unique and important the original site was. As we have not found any, we will instead be looking to ensure that any sites which have other ecological importance can be identified and protected.”
One such protected designation is “Sites of Biological Interest” – a new one has just been identified in Grasscroft, and the Greater Manchester Ecological Unit is looking at another potential one in Uppermill.