Campaigners have welcomed a decision by developers to withdraw plans for a motorway service area near Sheffield that would have destroyed irreplaceable ancient woodland.
Under the proposals from Extra Motorway Services, at least four hectares of the centuries-old Smithy Wood would have been bulldozed to make way for new services alongside the M1 at junction 35.
However Extra withdrew its application weeks after an alternative service area proposed by developers Applegreen 10 miles away at junction 33 was approved by Rotherham Council.
It is the second time in recent months that ancient woodlands in Yorkshire have survived development proposals, after North Yorkshire County Council dropped plans for a controversial relief road in the Nidd Gorge.
Woodland Trust lead campaigner Jack Taylor said: “Smithy Wood is one of our longest running applications that we have dealt with. If it wasn’t for ourselves and other campaign groups getting involved from the start it could have gone under the radar.
“In 2018 there was strengthened planning policy for ancient woodlands and that really helped our case and obviously the rival service station got approval in recent months.”
Smithy Wood, with its 850-year history, is home to a variety of special wildlife including ancient woodland flowers, birds, mammals, invertebrates, fungi and butterflies.
Mr Taylor said although coming under pressure in recent years from trail riding, it was still a thriving habitat, with bluebells to see in Spring and rare invertebrates like the dingy skipper butterfly, which is in severe decline. In the past six years more than 8,000 people have joined the call for Smithy Wood to be saved.
He said: “We are delighted that the application has been withdrawn after six years of dogged determination and campaigning by the Trust and the local community.
“Smithy Wood is - for now at least - safe from development and will continue to provide a rich habitat for ancient woodland flowers, birds and mammals.
“Our most recent online campaign to fight the proposal, asking Sheffield City Council to reject the application resulted in over 3,400 objections. We are thrilled and relieved that our campaign, and those of others meant the developer saw sense to withdraw.
“The Woodland Trust will not waiver in its support for ancient woodland and should any other proposal for this site materialise we stand ready to fight again.”
The Applegreen site is currently scrub land and some hard standing.
Applegreen has said the service station would employ 300 people and add about £4.75 million to the local economy per year. It will include 454 car parking spaces, including for 67 lorries, 14 coaches and 18 caravans.
Extra confirmed it had withdrawn its planning application but did not wish to provide further comment.