Cranborne Chase National Landscape: Position on Bonham Plain Afforestation Scheme, Wiltshire

31st October 2023

Cranborne Chase National Landscape Partnership is deeply concerned by a largely coniferous planting scheme agreed and grant aided by the Forestry Commission (FC) which will see the public funding of an 87.1 hectare afforestation project in the west of this protected landscape on Bonham Plain, adjacent to the Stourhead Estate in Wiltshire.

Encouraged and approved by the Forestry Commission, and funded through government grant aid, the planting of an 80% non-native commercial conifer forest will have significant and detrimental impacts on the Greensand Terrace Landscape Character Area (LCA), the least wooded LCA in the National Landscape. The planting will permanently change its character and views to and from the area for decades to come.

Neither an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) nor a Landscape and Visual Impact Assessment (LVIA) were carried out as both were deemed unnecessary by the Forestry Commission; contrary to the Forestry Commission’s own UK Forestry Standard. This is also in direct breach of Section 85 of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, that states:

‘In exercising or performing any functions in relation to, or so as to affect, land in an National Landscape, a relevant authority shall have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the National Landscape.’

Additionally, afforestation proposals do not normally require an EIA if on ‘low risk land’ (eg agricultural land classed as Grade 3b and lower). However, Bonham Plain is within the nationally designated National Landscape (ie high risk) and is Grade 2 Agricultural Land (the best and most versatile land) and therefore both of these criteria are considered ‘high risk’ and should trigger an EIA.

The National Landscape Partnership is deeply troubled that the Commissioners at the Forestry Commission have determined to dismiss the National Landscape Partnership’s objection to this 87.1ha afforestation scheme.

Trees are a vital part of some of the Cranborne Chase National Landscape landscape, contributing to its character and an essential part of its biodiversity. However, the wrong trees in the wrong place can have a lasting and damaging impact on the character of this nationally significant landscape and the public’s appreciation and enjoyment of it.

A view across Bonham Plain.
A view across Bonham Plain.

The National Landscape Partnership asserts that the Forestry Commission South West (FCSW) failed to separate their role of promoting and facilitating the production of a woodland creation design plan in an National Landscape from their responsibility to evaluate it objectively in line with their CRoW Act duty and their own UK Forestry Standard. FCSW has effectively approved a project that they had themselves encouraged to be put forward. In so doing, a number of short cuts, errors and omissions have occurred. Decisions on landscape and National Landscape matters were made without evidence of appropriate professional input, setting to one side this National Landscape’s recommendations to assess the landscape impacts at an early stage. That combined process of assisting and then approving a major afforestation scheme was then rolled forward to an England Woodland Creation Offer (EWCO) application for funding. At all stages, the National Landscape Partnership believes precedence has been given to planting trees and not to conserving and enhancing a nationally important and nationally designated landscape.

The Forestry Commissioners did not engage directly with the National Landscape Partnership or its staff, with our documentation being processed and rebutted by FC staff. The National Landscape believes Commissioners have been misled, having received an unbalanced view of the matter. The National Landscape also feels strongly that submissions on conserving and enhancing natural beauty to FCSW have been evaluated by FC staff who do not have appropriate National Landscape knowledge or experience.

The National Landscape Partnership fears that this sets a concerning precedent for the approval of future schemes across Cranborne Chase National Landscape and protected landscapes nationally.