ANCIENT woodland over 400 years old could be under threat from a new housing development which will be built next to it.

Maps as far back as 1817 show Pondhouse Copse, Burghfield—but not the 28 planned houses and flats.

Residents and the parish council are concerned about the effect the new houses will have on the ancient woodland and all the creatures that call it home. 

However, West Berkshire Council (WBC) said that ecology reports produced by the housebuilder show the development will not cause a problem. The council was unable to send its own ecologist to investigate because it has not employed one in more than three years. 

The ecologist post has been vacant since March 31, 2016, when the previous ecologist Jeremy Davy retired, according to a response to a recent freedom of information request.

It was not until January 2018 that the council advertised for a new ecologist. However, no ecologist was recruited then as none met the criteria needed. 

WBC did temporarily subcontract ecology work to Hampshire County Council, but this contract finished in March 2018. WBC will again attempt to recruit an ecologist this autumn. 

One resident complained to the council about Pondhouse Copse and the lack of ecologist. In response, Rachel Craggs, principal policy officer, said the housebuilder’s report was enough. 

She said: “Since the applicants had submitted the appropriate ecological studies … there was no need to duplicate this by commissioning separate ecology reports.” 

But according to one councillor, West Berkshire needs an ecologist independent of the housebuilders.

Councillor Carolyne Culver (Green, Ridgeway) said: “WBC needs a full permanent ecologist who can develop a real understanding of the district, build relations with the relevant departments at the council and be independent of private developers.”

A council spokesman said ecology reports submitted by those applying for planning permission ‘do not pose a conflict of interest’ and ‘are written by independent third parties’.

He said: “WBC provides its own, independent ecologist reports where necessary. For example, when a site is put forward for development as part of the local plan the council will have an ecology report produced for that site, at the appropriate level.

“In relation to Pond House Farm this was put forward as part of the housing site allocations development plan document, which was approved following an independent examination in public. That initial report was produced by the last ecologist directly employed by the council.”