One hundred and fifty people turned out this morning (June 8) to protest at a series of tree and hedge cut backs by Thanet council that they say has destroyed wildlife habitats and disturbed nesting birds.
The Thanet Trees group organised the protest outside Margate Winter Gardens at short notice and member Amelia Gregory said the turn out was ‘fantastic.’
The gathering comes on the heels of complaints made to the council and Kent Police’s wildlife unit about heavy cutbacks to hedgerows at the Winter Gardens and the former Christ Church University campus at Broadstairs.
In a letter to the council Ms Gregory said: “Why is TDC decimating shrubs across Thanet during peak nesting season, despite advice from many different bodies to avoid all cut backs of hedgerows during this season unless urgent? Why has this been deemed urgent?”
The group say there is evidence of nesting at the Winter Gardens site.
Thanet council say nesting birds have not been seen during council assessments of the site and the vast majority of this work is completed during the winter and outside of recognised nesting seasons.
Following the protest Ms Gregory said: “We had less than 24 hours to mobilise people into action for this protest, and I think the huge turn out in chaotic weather gives a clear indication of how people feel about the devastation at the Winter Gardens and TDC’s disinterest in the natural environment. Volunteers even cleared up the mess left from a person’s ‘home’ in the shrubs – it had all been left by TDC.
“The inadequate maintenance of hedgerows and green open spaces in Thanet has led to this destruction in the Winter Gardens.
“TDC appears to lack a coherent management structure or strategy for the upkeep and improvement of our precious public green spaces, and seems woefully uninterested in urgent environmental concerns such as the climate emergency and rapidly deteriorating biodiversity. This is largely due to the huge loss of trees and wild space in Thanet, which has only 4.4% tree cover, one of the lowest in the country.
“These bushes were the home of starlings and many other at risk species, and were most likely the stop off point for migratory birds, exhausted after their long flight across the sea. Where will they live now? We believe this action was unethical and demand an urgent review of TDC’s structure and environmental and open space strategies.
“We are now left with this embarrassing devastation which will greet summer visitors and the hundreds of thousands of people expected to visit the Turner Prize in the autumn, which takes place just a few hundred metres down the road. We have reported many nests found in the carnage left behind.”
A Thanet council spokesman said: “We engaged experienced, qualified and accredited contractors who conducted further examinations before commencing work and would also know to cease activity if evidence of active nesting birds were spotted. It is anticipated that at this time of year, re-growth is likely to appear quickly improving the appearance of the site.
“The decision to undertake work of this nature during this particular time period is based on issues raised by stakeholders using the affected spaces, including the need to mitigate against health and safety risks, particularly in relation to members of the public for whom our duty of care is paramount.
“Bearing in mind the levels of overgrowth it was not possible to cut these hedges back manually. We engaged experienced, qualified and accredited contractors who conducted further examinations before commencing work and would also know to cease activity if evidence of active nesting birds were spotted. It is anticipated that at this time of year, re-growth is likely to appear quickly improving the appearance of the site.
“There are no further scheduled cutting back of hedges planned, however if we are served a notice by the County Council or have a health and safety issue reported to us we may have to carry out necessary works during summer months, but as always following guidance to ensure minimal disruption to wildlife.
“We appreciate that this is an emotive issue, and can assure residents that there has been no intention to displace wildlife that contributes to our wonderful bio-diverse natural environment.”
Kent Police has confirmed a complaint has been received.
The Thanet Trees protest is due to be screened on this evening’s BBC South East News at 6.40pm.