Bexley Council is once again under scrutiny for an apparently budget-driven ‘scorched earth’ approach to vegetation management. Complaints from residents about the severity of an operation last week along the Wyncham stream, a tributary of the Shuttle, where it flows between Brookend and Longmeadow Roads in Sidcup, were so forceful that they caused contractors to stop work – but by then most of the work had been done .
Friends of the Shuttle committee members who had been alerted were quickly on hand to talk to residents, speak to Council bosses on the phone, and take pictures.
The following letter has been sent by FotS to the ‘News Shopper’:
‘We were appalled last week to witness at first hand the devastation along the banks of the Wyncham Stream where Council contractors were hacking rows of mature trees and bushes down to the ground.
Friends of the Shuttle was alerted to the work by residents in Brookend Road and Longmeadow Road who were furious at the “carnage” and “municipal vandalism” happening just outside their front doors without any consultation with local people. The contractors, Keir, told us they had been receiving complaints all day from angry residents, but were told by the Council to carry on regardless.
We managed to speak to a Council spokesman who said they had to cut down as much vegetation as possible now because there might be no maintenance budget for the next few years. We pointed out that it would take at least 20-30 years for some of the trees to re-grow!
We understand that the Council is adopting this ‘scorched earth’ maintenance policy across the borough, with further scenes of devastation reported from Hollyoak Wood and along the River Shuttle. It is deeply upsetting that conservation groups across the borough work so hard to look after our parks and rivers for local people and wildlife only to have them ruined in a few days by short-sighted, economically-driven policies. Unbelievably, the places where this has already happened are designated as Sites of Importance for Nature Conservation (SINC) by Bexley Council itself.
News Shopper readers will know that the Council is currently consulting on plans to sell off 27 green spaces and parks in the Borough in order to afford to maintain the remaining green spaces. If the Council’s idea of maintenance is the wholesale destruction of wildlife habitats and the degradation of the natural environment, then we suggest it is not worth the sacrifice of even one green space! FOTs (and the other groups within Bexley Natural Environment Forum) are asking the Council to call an immediate halt to this work and to carry out a proper consultation with local people before even more damage is done.’
This latest incident follows hot on the heels of Bexley RSPB’s Ralph Todd receiving numerous complaints about excessive cutting back of scrub along the margins of Hollyoak Wood by the Shuttle a few weeks ago. It is precisely because ‘edge’ habitat is known to be important that BNEF got a policy written into Bexley’s Biodiversity Action Plan that woodland margins in the Borough should be allowed to ‘bleed out’ into scrub and long grass, rather than have a slab-sided character with tall trees immediately giving way to closely mown grass. As far as we can see not only is this policy not being implemented, but where nature starts to do it anyway the Council comes along and acts in a way contrary to its own policy.
FotS Committee member Chris Smith says ‘I had a heated discussion Thursday with the relevant Council Officer when we ( the FotS team) went to view the work being carried out. When I suggested this was a scorched earth policy was being carried out the same as at Hollyoak Woods all he kept saying was that it was , and I quote, ” tree maintenance ” . When I pointed out that trees had been cut down to just stumps along the Wyncham channel he just kept repeating it was tree maintenance. I had been along there ‘spotting ‘ for the FotS the week before and thought how attractive it looked with lots of birds in and out of the shrubbery. I drove along both sides of the channel without any foliage touching my vehicle, which is 9 ft high, despite the Council saying it needed cutting back to stop it catching on cars and for access to the channel. Why they did not just trim it back about a foot to prevent future growth catching vehicles and cut a couple of entrance points through the shrubbery for access to the channel goodness only knows. That would seem to be the cheaper and more sensible option.’
Bexley Natural Environment Forum Chair Ray Gray said ‘Our affiliated groups are repeatedly raising issues about inappropriate vegetation management in relation to wildlife in SINCs and elsewhere, despite our best efforts to engage with the Council and get a more enlightened and more subtle approach. We have now got to the point where we are preparing a presentation to the relevant Council committee to try and get this sorted out. We will be writing to the Council to ask for copies of the management plans for all SINCs, the dates they were last updated and how these latest incidents accord – or not – with the management prescriptions. We suspect few exist, and we are willing to try and help fix this, but in the meantime it’s not an excuse for failing to take into account wider wildlife considerations and for not soliciting the views and expertise of volunteer groups already working in these open spaces. ‘