Experts are investigating whether centuries-old woodland linked to the legend of Robin Hood should be afforded protection from a controversial development.
Campaigners in the South Yorkshire villages of Norton, Campsall and Sutton have launched an official bid for Barnsdale Wood and neighbouring White Ley plantation, north-west of Doncaster, to be recognised as ‘ancient’.
It comes following an application to erect two wind turbines adjacent to the site, documented in literature as a stomping ground of the world’s most famous outlaw. Residents nearby claim the plans for community turbines would create a blot on the landscape and building work which requires access through part of the woods would disrupt and damage natural habitats.
Natural England has begun delving into archive materials and analysing old maps to establish whether the area has been continuously wooded since 1600, with a decision expected early in the new year.
While forest land carrying ‘ancient’ status is not protected by planning law, the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework says committees should give extra consideration to their impact on such historic habitats.
Campsall resident Ron Firth has compiled a wealth of evidence, including the 16th century Book of Pontefract, which references the area as the ‘famose Forrest of Barnsdale, where they say that Robyn Hudde liveyd’.
Mr Firth said: “Robin Hood’s escapades were linked to Barnsdale and for the 2010 film Russell Crowe based his research on Barnsdale rather than Sherwood Forest. Robin Hood’s Well, indicated on a 1771 map, is within a mile of the woods.
“Our local environment has lost so much over the last 100 years. Barnsdale offers one of the few special landscapes left to us and its wildlife habitats deserve to be protected.”
National conservation charity the Woodland Trust has thrown its weight behind the bid.
Campaigns leader Katharine Rist said: “Clearly, the woods in the Barnsdale Forest area have strong local cultural links to myth and legend and we also have reason to believe that Barnsdale Wood and White Ley plantation are ancient.
“Ancient woodland is a rare, nationally important, irreplaceable habitat covering just 2 per cent of the UK protection for it is currently weak.”
Original plans from York-based Origin Energy were submitted two years ago. At the time, Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport and National Air Traffic Service raised objections to the proposals, which could cause problems with navigation systems.
No planning meeting date has been determined for the application, but the local authority has been urged to defer its decision until Natural England has concluded its investigation.
Steve Carney, director of Origin Energy, said: “The Barnsdale woods we see marked on the maps now cannot be compared to that forest that may have been home to Robin Hood and his fraternity. The remnant that is now called Barnsdale Wood is not part of our site.
“There is a small wooded area called White Ley plantation on our site, a few hundred kilometres to the north. It is tiny and contains trees that are not the original native ones and are relatively young.”