Ancient woodland threatened by quarry

Nick Fewings
A proposed quarry in Kent could destroy even more ancient woodland sites than HS2 and Lower Thames Crossing combined, says the Woodland Trust.

This proposal could destroy an area of ancient woodland bigger than the losses suffered from HS2 and the Lower Thames Crossing combined. 

Campaigners fear for the future of rare wildlife if proposals to extend a quarry on ancient woodland move forward. 

The proposed extension of Hermitage Quarry, located west of Maidstone, could see at least 50 hectares of the ancient Oaken Wood lost. The site is likely home to a number of protected species, including rare bats, birds such as nightjar, insects including the green tiger beetle, and dormice, according to the Woodland Trust.  

The quarry is one of the last two remaining Kentish Ragstone quarries owned by aggregates company Gallagher, and has the capacity to produce more than two million tonnes of aggregates per annum.  

Kent County Council (KCC) has launched a consultation on whether the quarry extension should be taken forward in its Mineral Sites Plan. The consultation will run until 25 July. 


In response, the Woodland Trust has launched a campaign to stop what it claims would be one of the biggest losses of ancient woodland to development in England of the 21st century. 

Trust campaign lead Jack Taylor said the proposal was “appalling”. “We’re staggered,” he said. 

“Not only could it result in the loss of more than 50 hectares of ancient woodland, any remaining ancient woodland would be severely impacted – with huge effects on local wildlife and the destruction of a vital carbon store. 

“This proposal could destroy an area of ancient woodland bigger than the losses suffered from HS2 and the Lower Thames Crossing schemes combined. 

“We’re in the grip of a climate crisis and facing widespread biodiversity loss, so it’s imperative that we oppose the destruction of such a significant amount of irreplaceable ancient woodland.” 


Ancient woods are increasingly rare in the UK, covering just 2.5% of land. Their soils, and the complex ecosystems within them, cannot be re-grown or replaced.  

Yet according to Kent County Council, Oaken Wood is classified as a ‘Plantation on an Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS)’ which consists of ‘non-native tree species’, in this case a sweet chestnut coppice, according to a document that recorded a public meeting that took place on 7 July.  

Taylor explained that although the site had been replanted, PAWS were “crucial" in retaining ancient woodland features, such as undisturbed soil, ground flora and fungi.  

“Oaken Wood includes indicator species such as bluebell, guelder-rose, tutsan and enchanter’s nightshade,” he added. 

"PAWS are ancient woods and must be treated as such. To suggest otherwise is entirely out of step with government definitions and guidance.”  


This proposal could destroy an area of ancient woodland bigger than the losses suffered from HS2 and the Lower Thames Crossing combined. 

Despite objections, a previous expansion plan for the quarry was approved in 2013, meaning the existing quarry now occupies what was once 32 hectares of ancient woodland.  

In 2018, the government strengthened protection for ancient woodlands through its National Planning Policy Framework. Campaigners hope this will stop the proposed expansion being approved.   

Taylor explained that previously, developers could obtain permission for projects such as housing, quarries and leisure facilities as long as they could prove that the public benefits outweighed environmental harms.  

The 2018 change means that typically, only major rail and road projects such as HS2 and the Lower Thames Crossing, or other types of infrastructure such as reservoirs and utilities, are permitted on ancient woodland.  

Though this should in theory prevent the quarry from being taken forward, Taylor added: “We still need Kent County Council to see sense and not allocate this site for future mineral extraction.”  

The Woodland Trust is appealing for help to stop the proposal by getting as many people as possible to join its campaign.   


A spokesperson for KCC said that the site had been put forward following its “call for sites” - part of the process of drawing up its Mineral and Waste Local Plan and Kent Minerals Sites Plan.  

“Details of the proposal and an initial assessment have been published for people to comment on. Views are sought as to the suitability of the potential site to inform the detailed technical assessment stage of the plan-making process,” the spokesperson added. 

“This is an evidence gathering stage. No decisions have been made in respect of whether the site will be allocated within our plans and we would encourage people to share their views through our public consultation here by 25th July.” 

Gallagher did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication. 

This Author 

Yasmin Dahnoun is assistant editor at The Ecologist. This article is based on a Woodland Trust press release. 

More from this author