ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners from Rhu and Shandon are leading calls for “full legal protection” for Scotland’s remaining fragments of ancient woodlands.

More than 1,500 people, including TV presenter Professor Alice Roberts and environmentalist Sir Jonathan Porritt, have signed a petition lodged with the Scottish Parliament demanding ministers take action before Glasgow hosts the COP26 climate conference in November next year.

The petition was created by Rhu residents Audrey Baird and Fiona Baker, on behalf of the Help Trees Help Us campaign group.

Earlier this year Audrey called for more protection for a stretch of “precious” bluebell woodland near Smuggler’s Way which was being destroyed by mountain bike tracks.

READ MORE: Mountain bikers 'destroying Rhu's precious bluebell woods'

Kate Williams, who is a co-founder of the Rhu Clean-Up Crew and also a member of the Help Trees Help Us group, said current legislation is not fit for purpose and change is needed now.

She said she was hopeful that more people would back the petition before its closing date of Wednesday, August 5.

Kate said: “There is just one per cent of ancient woodland left in Scotland, which is shocking, however the Scottish Government are leading the way when it comes to a circular economy model and will be hosting the COP26 next year.

“We hope that by encouraging more people to support the petition, we can invite more people to make positive changes in how they respect and enjoy nature.

“We need to harness the power of existing mature trees and woodlands to capture carbon now and protect the Earth for current generations and generations to come.”

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She added: “When the world stood still and we all stayed at home, it was clear that our family, the community and nature was there for us when we needed them most.

“Many of us have had the opportunity to re-connect with our community and the local outdoor spaces that we probably didn’t appreciate beforehand.

“There have been many government promises to plant more trees, however small saplings will not be able to capture as much carbon that existing ancient woodlands and native trees are already doing. This is an easy win for us humans in the fight against climate change as we experience a warming climate and more weather extremes.”

Ancient woodland is defined as land that has been continually wooded since at least 1750.

Such woods usually have richer wildlife and their plants and animals may preserve elements of the natural composition of the original Atlantic forests.

READ MORE: Helensburgh climate campaigners urge MP to back 'green recovery' plans

Although there is no legislation specifically protecting them, Scottish planning policy identifies ancient woodland as an important and irreplaceable national resource that should be protected and enhanced. Official policy also includes a strong presumption against removal.

The Native Woodland Survey of Scotland, carried out between 2006 and 2013, suggested native woodlands cover just four per cent of the country.

West of Scotland Green MSP Ross Greer said: “Scotland is losing ancient woodland at a worrying rate and not only is it a disaster for local wildlife and communities, every loss is a blow to our efforts against the climate crisis.

“As we’ve seen at Portincaple, Balloch and other locations, ancient woodland is regularly under severe threat from developers whose priority is turning a profit. This petition is absolutely right to be calling for a more rigorous and cautious approach.

“We need to see ancient woodland not just as groups of trees, but as unique ecosystems developed over many years, with wild flowers, insects and animals dependent on and thriving in them. I hope that Parliament’s petitions committee will recognise this.”

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