‘Work at Rushmere Country Park amounts to mass vandalism’

A furious dog walker says she has cut the Greensand Trust out of her will, claiming several areas of Rushmere Country Park now “look as if a nuclear bomb’s gone off” due to excessive tree felling.

Tracy Wood, from Heath and Reach, has been enjoying country strolls in the park near her home for years, but has registered a formal complaint with the Trust about the ongoing work at the site, which she believes amounts to “mass vandalism”.

Lord's Hill - the impassable patch. Credit: Tracy Wood.

Lord's Hill - the impassable patch. Credit: Tracy Wood.

However, the charity insists the felling is part of an important conservation management plan to develop and restore more species-rich habitats, while some trees have had to be chopped down near the main entrance as they were becoming unstable.

Tracy’s formal complaint stated: “You are turning a lovely park into a huge mess, that is not looked after. You are ruining the place.”

She told the LBO: “There used to be big tall pine trees in the Lord’s Hill area, but they were cut down about five or six years ago and the land has been impassable for two years.

“The land behind the Heath and Reach Royal British Legion used to have shrubs and trees; children used to make dens there. Tha.t was flattened last year and no-one has replanted it. It is an awful mess. It looks like a nuclear bomb’s gone off.”

Lord's Hill - before the work started. Credit: Tracy Wood.

Lord's Hill - before the work started. Credit: Tracy Wood.

Tracy claims that over 30 pine trees and a number of poplar trees have been removed, meaning less CO2 absorption, and that the online consultation was “not advertised to the local community”.

The dog walker noted that near Plantation Road and Linslade Road they are currently felling more pine trees, and says she has been told by the Trust that this is because the trees are near the road, posing a danger during storms.

She claimed: “That seems a bit excessive? They have been there for years and you could argue that about trees near the footpaths. In a letter from the CEO I was also told that they don’t want pine trees, but it’s part of the place that everybody knows.”

Tracy claims that since the trees started being removed there are now fewer deer, rabbits and badgers, and that cutting down poplar trees will harm the woodpecker population who nest in them.

Lord's Hill - just after the work was carried out five/six years ago. Credit: Tracy Wood.

Lord's Hill - just after the work was carried out five/six years ago. Credit: Tracy Wood.

She added: “I am very angry. This is public money the Greensand Trust is using. I was told that the new heathland should attract wildlife, but surely this is not the case; I wonder if they will build a car park behind the Legion?”

Finally, Tracy noted that she was worried about the Trust’s health and safety standards, claiming she had seen a large bonfire left unattended last summer behind the Royal British Legion.

A Greensand Trust spokeswoman, said: “We have responded to Tracy Wood in full.

“Notices regarding tree felling and road closures which resulted in the park being closed for two days were posted on our website and on site beforehand. “Visitors may have noticed that a number of trees have been felled within Rushmere Country Park as part of our ongoing conservation work, in line with the site’s conservation management plan. The Rushmere site was previously managed as a commercial woodland, which is why much of the planting is dense and relatively uniform - woodland of this type makes relatively poor wildlife habitat unless it is managed appropriately.

Tracy is sad because 'perfectly healthy' trees are being chopped down.  Credit: Tracy Wood.

Tracy is sad because 'perfectly healthy' trees are being chopped down. Credit: Tracy Wood.

“As a conservation charity we are seeking to develop and restore more species’ rich habitats at the park, protecting the natural environment.

“Shire Oak Heath and Lord’s Hill were once thriving heathland habitats - we are seeking to restore this area into a mosaic of heathland and acid grassland with a scattering of mature trees, woodland and bare ground. Heathland is a priority habitat for nature conservation due to its increasingly rare and threatened status, with much of this habitat lost through conversion to conifer plantations, as occurred here at Rushmere.

“The work we are carrying out at Rushmere is playing its part in conserving biodiversity and is approved by Natural England and The Forestry Commission. The trust was recently praised by government conservation body Natural England for our conservation work at Shire Oak Heath – which is part of the Kings and Bakers Woods and Heaths Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) – which has now been re-classified from ‘unfavourable declining’ to ‘unfavourable recovering SSSI condition’ thanks to the heathland restoration work that has been carried out there.

“The site is now progressing well towards a return to favourable condition following years of neglect under the previous owner.

“Conifer plantations support very little wildlife, apart from a few common species, in comparison to the heathland that we are attempting to restore, which supports a wide variety of uncommon wildlife of significant biodiversity interest such as bees and other species which require the open, sandy conditions that heathland provides. Works also include thinning some of the surrounding pine plantations, providing space and light.

“We are also carrying out some essential tree safety works, involving the felling of a number of poplars near the park’s main entrance which were reaching the end of their expected lifespan, making them increasingly unstable - one fell earlier this year.

Lord's Hill - impassable area. Credit: Tracy Wood.

Lord's Hill - impassable area. Credit: Tracy Wood.

“The poplar trees have now been felled to prevent the risk of them falling and the potential harm this could cause in their location adjacent to a main road. There will be localised replanting with native trees that better suit the location.”

The 'unattended bonfire' Tracy claims she saw last summer behind the Royal British Legion. Credit: Tracy Wood.

The 'unattended bonfire' Tracy claims she saw last summer behind the Royal British Legion. Credit: Tracy Wood.