Latest outbreak of excessive ‘vegetation management’ sparks ‘Key habitat features’ list move

Several complaints about  a ‘scorched earth’ approach to vegetation management along the River Shuttle over the past couple of weeks, have been relayed to noted local bird recorder Ralph Todd of Bexley RSPB, and further dismay was expressed by a volunteer at today’s Crossness event, who has witnessed the damage first hand and suggested that the Environment Agent may have had a hand in this under the guise of ‘flood control’ measures (water levels in the Shuttle can rise swiftly and it is seen as a flood risk).

Ralph has contacted Bexley Council about this matter and his report on the issue appears below. The Council’s response doesn’t really clarify who is responsible. But in any case, the important thing now is for us all to take the initiative and help work on a list of ‘key habitat features’ that are important for wildlife that we can lobby the Council with, such as hedges used by significant numbers of House Sparrows, road verges with particularly good flora etc. that have been, or appear to be at risk of poor management for biodiversity. These can be on Council land, school grounds and private land, though the latter may be harder to sort out. The idea is to get ahead of the game and set an agenda regarding management, rather than being left complaining after the event.  The fact that the Council is supposed to be  saving money, which suggests it will have to ‘manage’ vegetation less, ought to be to our advantage in this. GPS and other technology should make it possible to ensure that operatives know where to cut and where not to, without being wildlife experts. Please use the ‘Leave comments’ feature here, or in the ‘Comments’ box on the equivalent Facebook post – identifying such places and saying how the current management regime should be changed and why – to get the ball rolling ….. Do include features within designated ‘Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation’ as well. The Shuttle is one such, but this hasn’t in itself prevented damaging errors in the past either.

Starting new Friends Groups for open spaces that don’t have them is another way we can influence the management regime to the greater benefit of wildlife. Most parks and open spaces don’t have one at the moment ……

Ralph writes:

“Over the past couple of weeks it has been brought to our attention that the contractors working on behalf of Bexley Council Grounds Maintenance are grubbing out a lot of excellent wildlife habitat – often bramble and other scrub (e.g. Sidcup Place, Penhill Park, Marlborough Park School, Haddon Grove/Hollyoak Wood Park).

Whilst it is comforting to know that people care enough to mention it, by that time it is too late to save the habitat. The only thing we can recommend in the short term is to write to your local Councillors and bring it to their attention,  telling them that with budget savings required this seems an unnecessary operation and harmful to wildlife.

The Council have responded to our questions relating to the operation with the following statement “grounds maintenance do all but emergency work for shrub and scrub maintenance between September to late Feb,  so it will seem that a lot of this work is ongoing at the moment; many of the bramble areas are actually grass that has, over several years been let go by mowers not covering the full areas they should and every now and then Grounds Maintenance try to reclaim these areas back.

It may be that before the next large budget cut hit in March that Grounds staff are trying to get as much down as possible while they still have a budget. Last year they trimmed all the shrubs in the highways etc. over winter rather than just those scheduled for that year, as that budget was to be cut the following spring.”

Whilst it might be too late for this year, some future budget cuts could be turned to the advantage of wildlife if implemented in an appropriate manner. So now is the time to start developing a list of particular areas that are good for wildlife, including small and ‘scruffy’ ones that may get overlooked, and let us, the Council (and your Councillors) know in advance. This way we can provide a positive service to the Council when it is consulting on budget cuts and grounds maintenance matters, instead of just complaining when things go wrong.”

Post your suggestions using ‘Leave a comment’ at the foot of this post, or  in the Facebook ‘Comments’ box  and we will collate a list and use it in the ongoing discussions we have with the Council about wildlife issues in Bexley. 

The River Shuttle above Penhill Road on a gloomy 15th September 2011. (Photo: Chris Rose)

The River Shuttle above Penhill Road on a gloomy 15th September 2011. (Photo: Chris Rose)



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