‘If these woods go they are gone forever’ - that was the emotive message of protesters fighting to stop building plans for ancient land.
More than 100 banner-waving campaigners gathered in Smithy Wood near Chapeltown, where Extra Motorway Service Area wants to build an M1 service station, before handing over a letter in opposition to developers yesterday.
Oliver Newham, a senior campaigner for charity the Woodland Trust, said: “There really is a strength of feeling about this.
“There are hundreds of objections and we have a petition signed by 6,000 people, people who do not want to lose their ancient woodland.”
The woods, which date back to 1161, contain many fungi, plants and wildlife species.
Badgers have been seen there, and bluebells are starting to bloom.
Oliver said: “Even if there are new trees planted, you cannot recreate the same unique environment.
“If these woods go, they will have gone forever.”
Permission is being sought to build the motorway stop across 20 acres beside Smithy Wood near junction 35 of the M1.
The applicants say the £40m service station is needed as drivers currently have to drive 42 miles without a break, which is contrary to safety guidance.
But opposition is still mounting.
Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith has secured a debate on the topic of protecting ancient woodland in the House of Commons later this month.
Campaigners also hope new advice for councils on ancient woodland, issued by Natural England last week, will help their cause when Sheffield Council planners discuss the proposal.
The plans are open for public consultation until May 16.
Oliver added: “We would ask people to find out more about the plans.
“We are not anti-service stations, we need them of course, but do they have to be on ancient woods?”