Building a new holiday village in Sussex would “tear the heart out” of irreplaceable ancient woodland and make a mockery of the Government’s commitments to tackle climate change, activists have warned.
A £350 million Center Parcs could be built on a 553-acre site near Crawley, with lodges, restaurants and a swimming complex.
But environmental experts said the development would destroy habitat and “open the floodgates for damage to ancient woodlands elsewhere”.
Center Parcs said it is surveying the site and takes its responsibility to the environment “extremely seriously”.
The leisure company, which runs five popular holiday villages across the UK, has secured an option agreement to acquire privately owned woodland at Oldhouse Warren in West Sussex.
Nature conservation and countryside charities the Woodland Trust, Sussex Wildlife Trust, CPRE Sussex, Sussex Ornithological Society and the RSPB have criticised the plans.
In a joint statement, the organisations said the development would “would tear the heart out of Oldhouse Warren’s irreplaceable ancient woodland” resulting in “irreversible loss of habitat for wildlife”.
Dan Osborn, chairman of CPRE Sussex, said: “Felling ancient woodland and displacing some of our rarest birds would be bad enough anywhere, it is even worse done in the heart of the High Weald national landscape.
“The proposals fly in the face of everything we are told about the need to reduce our carbon emissions, and run counter to Government objectives for the restoration and expansion of our natural habitats and biodiversity for our, and their, long-term health and wellbeing.”
Jenny Scholfield, South East regional director for the Woodland Trust, warned that the development could “open the floodgates for damage to ancient woodlands elsewhere”.
The groups say the area is a breeding and foraging site for bird species including goshawk, marsh tit and firecrest.
Alan Perry, president of the Sussex Ornithological Society, said: “It holds scarce and threatened birds and survey work in this private site would doubtless reveal other such species.
“But the site also needs to be looked at in a wider context. It is part of a wider, largely undisturbed, area of woodland and open fields that is home to scarce breeding birds that roam over large distances.”
Center Parcs said the development is expected to cost between £350 million and £400 million and create about 1,500 permanent local jobs, and a further 1,000 roles during construction.
A spokesperson for the company said “detailed ecological surveys” are under way and it takes its responsibility to the environment and forests “extremely seriously”.
They added: “We have more than 30 years’ experience of sensitively managing the woodlands in which our villages are located, carefully nurturing and maintaining the forests to protect and enhance biodiversity.
“Our approach to this development will be a collaborative one, working with the local authority, local community and with all groups that have a specific interest in the site.”