A NEW £400 million resort set to be built in Sussex poses a "grave threat" to an ancient woodland, campaigners have said. 

National charities and conservation groups have today hit out at Center Parcs' plans to create a holiday spot on 223 hectares of Worth Forest, near Crawley, insisting the proposals threaten the future of Oldhouse Warren, one of the woodlands within the site. 

The Woodland Trust, Sussex Wildlife Trust, CPRE Sussex, Sussex Ornithological Society and RSPB say the scheme "would tear the heart out of [the] irreplaceable ancient woodland ... resulting in irreversible loss of habitat for wildlife".

READ MORE: What is Phytophthora Pluvialis? Everything we know so far 

While a planning application is yet to be submitted, it is understood as many as 900 lodges could be built at what would be Center Parcs' sixth centre. The holiday giant insists "detailed ecological surveys will inform all designs". 

But in a statement jointly released by campaigners today, they called on the group to rethink the proposal and said it would make a mockery of recent pledges agreed by the UK government at the COP26 climate change summit. 

Forestry Journal:

The statement read: "Center Parcs’ scheme would tear the heart out of Oldhouse Warren’s irreplaceable ancient woodland and this very special part of the High Weald AONB, resulting in irreversible loss of habitat for wildlife. It puts to the test the effectiveness of planning policy that gives ancient woods and AONBs exceptional protection from damage and destruction.

"The inevitable loss of habitat would make a mockery of the Government’s commitments to address climate change and its manifesto pledge to expand the acreage of protected landscapes and to plant 30,000ha of new trees by 2024. To consider the destruction of such valuable woodland habitat when the UK has just hosted the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) and committed to end deforestation is unquestionably troubling and steeped in irony.

"Center Parcs’ proposals are likely to include around 900 lodges, a tropical swimming centre, recreational facilities, shops, restaurants, car parks, roads and other associated infrastructure, spread over the equivalent of approximately 350 football pitches.

"Any plans to build on this site would result in significant direct loss of ancient woodland, as well as severe deterioration from increased disturbance; impacts that are contrary to national protections afforded to irreplaceable ancient woods.

"The charities are calling on Center Parcs to rethink its plans and identify an alternative sustainable site that would not result in the loss of irreplaceable habitats. Development at Oldhouse Warren would be simply unacceptable."

A Center Parcs spokesperson said: "As part of the pre-planning process, we are conducting detailed ecological surveys which will inform our designs and construction environmental management plan – at the moment, we haven’t completed this work so we don’t have anything more specific to share, but rest assured that we take our responsibility to the environment and forests extremely seriously.

READ MORE: Removal of Bradford trees with ash dieback accused of being 'unscientific'

"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."