Wildlife Trust 'appalled' by unauthorised tree felling

The felling of woodland at Nursling demonstrates the need for stronger protections for local wildlife sites, argues Trevor Codlin

Time and time again we see that local wildlife protections just aren’t regarded very highly through the planning process. This is one of the reasons why we at the Wildlife Trusts are very keen for existing EU-level wildlife protections to be maintained over the coming months and years. 

However a local incident has really brought these problems into focus. Last week we were alerted to the unlicensed felling of trees in Big Willow Wood, near Nursling, by the private landowner. The activity is potentially aimed at clearing the land in preparation for a future planning application

Unauthorised tree felling at Nursling

The damage done at Big Willow Wood near Nursling, is near irreversible

We at the Wildlife Trust are particularly concerned about this incident; the area is an important part of the ecological network of habitats around the River Test SSSI and our nearby Lower Test Marshes nature reserve, and also because the woodland is designated at county level as a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation - meaning it’s an important area for wildlife considered to be of county value in Hampshire. However SINC status is non-statutory, meaning no legal action can be taken on the basis of the designation.

While development of a SINC is contrary to the local authority Test Valley Borough Council’s planning policies, the felling is technically not linked to any specific planning application yet, so there is no scope for enforcement. Additionally, none of the individual trees had any protection (such as a Tree Preservation Order), so there was nothing the council could do to stop the clearance as it happened, which incidentally was carried out over weekend so no council officers would have been working.

The one avenue for undoing the damage is through the Forestry Commission. Currently a felling licence is requiredbefore felling a certain quantity of timber, and since this activity exceeds that quantity and happened without such a license being acquired, the Commission can pursue a restocking enforcement or a prosecution through the courts.

Our planning team is liaising with local residents, the Forestry Commission and the local MP about next steps and what action should be taken. However, the destruction of Big Willow Wood demonstrates how the erosion of our network of important nature conservation sites unfolds on the ground, because of a lack of robust protection and measures to deter and penalise harm to wildlife.

We're appalled by the destruction of Big Willow Wood and will be calling for stronger legal protection and robust policies to ensure the protection of our county wildlife sites.