The story so far
The three woodlands (Racecourse, Belmore and Brown’s Plantations) are in Thorpe St Andrew, just outside Norwich. Their total area is 205 acres (82 hectares), and together they form the largest area of woodland within several miles of Norwich. The woodlands are owned by the Thorpe & Felthorpe Trust, the Trustees of which are five members of the Gurney family. The Trust has made clear its intention to seek planning permission for 631 ‘units’ covering most of Racecourse Plantation and large parts of Belmore and Brown’s Plantations (see development Masterplan below).
The Trustees held a series of public events between 5th & 13th July 2010 under the name of the ‘Belmore Park Charrette’. During the ‘charrette’ the Trustees and their agent (Andres Duany of Duany Plater-Zyberk), made a number of important claims, including:
• That the woodlands shouldn’t be considered woodlands because they are merely commercial forestry plantations intended to be harvested, like an arable crop
• That the plantations were planted after World War II
• That the cost of managing the plantations is high, and continuing to manage them is becoming increasingly economically unviable
• That without continuing management the wildlife habitat value of the plantations, which they say is already not very high, would decline even further
• That they are faced with no alternative but to find alternative uses for the land which would enable them to make a profit
• That it is a legal obligation, under the terms of the Trust, that the land must make a profit for the benefit of the Trustees (ie: themselves)
However, these claims were ill-informed and highly misleading. The facts are:
• Contrary to the Trustees’ assertions, the woodlands were not planted after WWII but have been there for at least 130 years: they are shown with virtually identical boundaries on the 1882 Ordnance Survey map (see below)
• Rather than being coniferous plantation typical of commercial forestry, the woodlands are generally semi-natural broadleaved, with a wide range of native and naturalised species of a wide range of ages.
• The ecological value of the woodlands is actually very high. This fact is recognised by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust which designated the whole wooded area a County Wildlife Site (CWS) in 1997.
• There is no visible evidence of any management having taken place for many years, other than simple extraction of saleable timber. There are no signs of any replanting having taken place.
• Alternatives do exist which would generate income from the woodlands without destroying them. For example, woodfuel coppicing would not only be a profitable enterprise but would also benefit the woodlands’ ecosystems and provide carbon-neutral fuel to the local area on a permanently sustainable basis.
The Thorpe woodlands are an extremely important natural resource in their own right, as well as for their unique habitat value and their significance to local people. They are officially recognised as an area of special landscape value in the Broadland District Council (BDC) Local Plan. They are also listed as an area of ‘core biodiversity value’.
Building in the woodlands would completely destroy the ecological value of all of the habitat where houses, roads and gardens were to go. Outside land directly affected by built development, eg: retained fragments of woodland, the habitat quality would fall dramatically and become incapable of sustaining most of the important species currently to be found.
The development proposals are an outrage and everyone who values these woodlands, or woodlands and wildlife in general, should do what they can to oppose them. Look out on this blog for details of how you can get involved in the campaign; forthcoming meetings & events; details of who to write to / email / phone to make your voice heard, and for further information on the woodlands themselves.