A haunt for deer hunters in Norman times, Ashdown Forest is an ancient area of tranquil heathland that sits atop the highest sandy ridge in the heart of the High Weald.
Nearly a century ago, it was immortalised in print as Winnie the Pooh’s 100 Acre Wood.
Nowadays, the 6,500 acre forest is a place of conservation, not hunting.
On warm summer evenings, one might hear the distinctive, mechanical ‘churring’ of the nightjar, glimpsing its mottled plumage as it hawks for insects at dusk.
Or perhaps you might spy the long tail of the Dartford Warbler, on the heathland.
But such sights and sounds could disappear forever if new housing developments are allowed nearby.
To protect these birds from increases in visitor and road traffic, the forest is a designated Special Protection Area and Special Area of Conservation. Any significant developments within a 7km radius can only be agreed if strict mitigating measures are taken.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) had previously seen no need to draw up such measures given the ‘slight’ impact their planned development would have on the area.
But recent central government pressure means the council’s target of 6,000 new homes by 2026 could treble, and it now says it is ‘very possible that circumstances may change in the near future so that there is a greater impact.’
Councillors have discussed the ‘need to be able to deal with new developments as and when they come forward in, or, in the case of a significantly large expansion not already covered in our allocations dpd, close to the 7km zone.’
Roy Galley, chair of the Conservators of Ashdown Forest, told the Times: “The board has never taken an official stance on this, but as a general principle we would like developments near the forest to be as limited as possible.
“The birds are important, but they’re not the only part. The more vehicles, the more emissions that change the habitat. If you get too much nitrogen, different plants develop, and we’re keen to preserve the lowland heath. There’s very little left in the UK.
“We have a rare and special landscape and heritage and it would be a great shame if builders and developers were allowed to come and destroy that.”
Wealden District Council recently proposed increasing the 7km zone to 15km, a move TWBC have opposed ‘as it would have a very significant effect on development within Tunbridge Wells Borough’.
Mr Galley added: “I’m a great supporter of the present government, but their obsession with housing means that some of our special green areas are under threat.
“Other than what’s already planned, we don’t really want any other development here.”