[The original article appeared in Envirotec Magazine]
The environmental team at engineering consultancy Idom Merebrook Ltd (IDOM) has been appointed by the City of London to work on a project assessing the air quality of Epping Forest – the largest public open space in the London area, and a site of national and international conservation importance.
Epping Forest is a 2400-hectare stretch of ancient woodland between London and Essex; it is made up of more than 50 areas of woodland, grassland, bridleway, recreational space and is home to over 50,000 ancient pollard trees and 100 lakes and ponds. As a former Royal Forest it is owned and managed by the City of London Corporation, as Conservators of Epping Forest.
Epping Forest has been designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 due to the presence of beech woodland and heathland. The forest supports over 80% of the UK’s ancient beech trees, many of which are in excess of 500 years old including some of the oldest in Europe.
However, surveys have revealed over 60% of the forest is in unfavourable condition and is at a uniquely high risk of adverse environmental impacts, when compared to other internationally important sites in the southeast of England.
IDOM has been engaged as part of the overall emerging Epping Forest Local Plan (EFLP) to review the air quality sections of the Habitats Regulation Assessment and advise on the appropriateness of the methodology used and robustness of the conclusions reached.
IDOM Project Manager, Kat Johnson, commented:
“Background levels of air pollutants are exceeding critical levels across Epping Forest. This is highly unusual as, although concentrations of air pollutants are typically elevated in close proximity to roads, they do decline with increasing distance, typically to concentrations which are below critical levels.
However, within Epping Forest this is not the case and continuing high levels of air pollution mean that the forest is highly vulnerable to additional threats such as the increase in traffic emissions, associated with future plans outlined by Epping Forest District Council.
Even at the point when air pollutants drop below the critical level, there will still be a lag time in the recovery of habitats to favourable conservation status. Any increase in emissions will therefore extend the period of recovery and is contrary to the conservation objectives of the SAC.”
The approval of the council’s Local Plan, which results in increased traffic along roads through the forest and a consequent inherent increase in air pollution, would be at odds with recent rulings in the Court of Justice of the European Union (the so called ‘Dutch Nitrogen Cases’).
IDOM contributed to the written representation submitted by the Conservators and attended the Examination in Public hearing at Epping Forest District Council’s Civic Offices on 21st May 2019. Representatives from Natural England also appeared at the examination and raised a number of issues which aligned closely with IDOM’s evaluation.
The future of the forest now hangs in the balance, the Conservators recognise that development is necessary and have been working constructively with Epping Forest District Council to devise mitigation strategies for other aspects of the plan (namely recreational impacts).
The Planning Inspector issued advice indicating that further work must be undertaken by EFDC in order to conclude, beyond reasonable scientific doubt, that the Local Plan will not adversely affect the integrity of the Epping Forest SAC.
The IDOM team will continue work to support the City of London to help determine the most sustainable future for the Forest.