Guest blog by Joan Miller – why Smithy Wood matters

I’m just blown away by the insanity of the planning application for Smithy Wood, yes, over 22 acres of 12th century ancient woodland could be cut down and replanted somewhere else, and the decision is to be made at Sheffield Town Hall on 28th March.  I know, you thought that there were legal protections for ancient woodlands. Well, there are, but, as reported by the Daily Mail: “in a crucial test case, Extra MSA Group has submitted a formal planning application to destroy 20 acres of ancient woodland, and offered to plant twice as many new trees nearby. The firm, which specialises in building motorway services, is the first to attempt to use the controversial process, known as ‘biodiversity offsetting’, for ancient woodland”.

The Sheffield Wildlife Trust would like you to join the campaign to save Smithy Wood.  They would like you to object to the planning application, write to the press AND your own councillors and join the peaceful protest on Saturday 18 March.  For more information follow the link – to help us Save Smithy Wood.

I’ve written to my councillors already and here are the basics of my letter:

We are in 2017 facing The 6th Mass Extinction and precipitous loss of biodiversity.  Now it sounds biblical doesn’t it, but actually it’s science.  I am concerned because Smithy Wood is 12th century Ancient Woodland and therefore has deeper biodiversity.   Scientists are warning us that we are entering the 6th Mass Extinction, and part of this is that biodiversity is being lost is at a phenomenal rate. Here is a quote from New Scientist:

More than half of UK species have suffered declines in recent years and 15 per cent are at risk of vanishing.  The study, which pools knowledge from 53 wildlife organisations, shows that 56 per cent of almost 4000 studied land and freshwater species suffered declines in numbers or areas where they are found between 1970 and 2013. There is little evidence to suggest the rate of loss is slowing down and some 1,200 species are at risk of disappearing from the UK, the report said.”

The hedgehog, just for an example, has fallen to less than 1 million animals from more than 30 million 40 years ago.  This decline is NOT slowing.

In order to help these species, and therefore ourselves, we must maintain habitats and further develop them by creating corridors so that the habitats are linked to one another. All of this also creates great spaces for humans to enjoy right now while taking our part in safeguarding the future.

Sheffield Climate Alliance believes in climate justice.   Trees and habitats really matter in our mitigation against climate change.  SCA doesn’t think enough has been done for this poorer Eastern side of Sheffield. SCA was really saddened in 2013 when 40,000 trees were felled from Hesley Wood on the old tip from the coking works near Chapeltown.  The company Recycoal wanted to take the coal out of the slag heap (it was only enough coal for 28 days at a power station) and in the end they haven’t gone ahead!

We feel very bad that the battle to save those trees was lost, a battle that was led by local residents of Chapeltown.  The Cowley estate residents fear that they will be more likely to have a landslide in very heavy rain without the trees, and SCA is fearful of this too.  Chapeltown has flooded, this area is more vulnerable to further flooding, and the impacts of climate change will increase inequalities. Could we persuade Sheffield City Council  to use the climate justice planning tools created by Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Manchester University and Newcastle City Council?

Ancient woodland is protected by law, and SCA worries that Sheffield risks reputational damage with this issue.  The issue has already had very wide national press and TV interest. People are looking nationally at Sheffield to see if they allow ancient woodland to be destroyed using the offsetting loophole. This would be a real tragedy in itself but also Sheffield’s branding as a green city, as an Outdoor City, could take a serious knock.

So I am encouraging all SCA supporters to please raise your concerns as soon as possible, because defending ancient woodland sites is our frontline in the restoration of the planet and tackling climate inequalities.  I’ve been so inspired by the Standing Rock Protectors in North Dakota, where the proposed pipeline threatens water, and I want us to express solidarity with them.  It’s the same struggle, but this time on our doorstep.