Desecration of ancient woodland
We have had many reports from members about the desecration that is continuing in the High Woods. A large swath of the Ancient Semi Natural Woodland (ASNW) has been burned, after the lower meadow area was cleared and apparently set alight. The fire spread to the adjoining chestnut coppice and the undergrowth and some of the new trees from the coppicing in 2014 have been destroyed. The damage to the nesting birds and hibernating animals has not been determined. This area is subject to a tree preservation order.
Our local Kent County Councillor, Cllr Catherine Rankin, has visited the area and had this to say: “I have visited the woods this evening and from the public footpath the desecration of the woods is very apparent. I have asked council officers to pursue this blatant disregard of the planning regulations with the full force of the powers available to them.”
This desecration is all part of the road being driven through the woodland that we contacted the council about in August 2016. The landowner, Mr Bowman, has now applied for a permitted development permit for the stretch of road from the steel barn on High Woods Lane to the junction with the Tunbridge Wells Circular walk. In his application, Mr Bowman stated that the road had been there since 2012. As the council had little evidence to the contrary, retrospective planning permission was granted in May 2017.
Mr Bowman has continued to extend the road along the edge of the chestnut coppice, to the point where it now joins Hawkenbury Road, just below Hawkenbury Farm B&B. The triangular meadow area running along Hawkenbury Road has now been cleared and a barbwire fence has been erected. The land owner, Mr Bowman has submitted a planning application for the extension of the road and you can view the application here. http://twbcpa.midkent.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=OO36C0TYIMK00 We intend to object strongly to the planning application and would encourage our members to do the same.
Our major concern is the large amount of hardcore rubble that is being dumped in the wood and bulldozed into the ground. There is currently no control over what is going into the ground and it is simply a wholesale fly tipping exercise to avoid responsible waste disposal. From the photographic evidence submitted by members, plastic toilet parts, reinforced steel concrete posts and other building rubble is visible. There is even the possibility that there is asbestos in the rubble being dumped in the High Woods. It has been reported that this dumping is taken place elsewhere in the wood, but we have been unable to verify this.
The Tunbridge Wells Borough Council have been proactive in the matter and the Tree Officer, Mr Daniel Docker, has been out with the Kent Police Wildlife Officer to investigate the burning of the wood. Whilst they saw no evidence of harm to the wildlife, the land owner, Mr Bowman, was instructed to stop work in the area until the planning application has been decided. The Council have now extended the Tree Preservation Order to cover the meadow area, as it too, forms part of the Ancient Semi Natural Woodland (ASNW).
We are working alongside our councillors and TWBC to monitor the area and we would welcome comments from members if they spot any new activity in the area. Please bear in mind that this is private land and, as such, you may be trespassing, unless you stick to the established pathways and rights of way on the land.
We’ll be looking at rights of way across the land through prescription¹ in the next few weeks and will be seeking input from our members.
¹ An easement may be created by prescription. This happens when someone carries out an act (that is capable of being an easement) repeatedly, openly and without the (potentially servient) landowner’s permission for a period of at least twenty years. We believe there is enough evidence to suggest that ramblers and dog walkers have been using this area of land for at least 30 years.