Tree clearance in Welwyn Garden City defended

PUBLISHED: 15:00 09 March 2014

Cllr Mandy Perkins at Sherrardspark  Wood

Cllr Mandy Perkins at Sherrardspark Wood

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Council chiefs have hit back at claims they are desecrating Sherrardspark Wood and clearing it for housing.

In a letter published by the Welwyn Hatfield Times last month, reader Wendy Ward described recent management in the wood on the edge of Welwyn Garden City, which is owned by the borough council, as “wanton vandalism on a largely indiscriminate scale”.

She compared recently cleared areas with “war-torn France”, and suggested they could be used for future housing schemes.

But Councillor Mandy Perkins, cabinet member for planning and business, told the Welwyn Hatfield Times the work programme was crucial for the wood’s long-term future.

She said: “Losing the SSSI [site of special scientific interest] status would be a terrible indictment, not just of the council, but of Welwyn Garden City as a whole.”

Far from a meaningless set of initials, she argued, the status protects the wood from housing and other development, and ensures most of the cost of looking after it is covered by Government grants.

The recent clearance work is part of Welwyn Hatfield Council’s project to improve the wood for wildlife, spurred by criticism in a 2004 Natural England report.

With the help of the Sherrardspark Wood Wardens Society, which has been caring for it since the 1930s, the council is helping wildlife in a project with four elements.

Clearance of non-native rhododendron scrub is now complete, and the wardens are quick to pounce on any new shoots coming through.

Semi-mature trees are being cleared from the sides of several main paths, to let through more light and encourage bramble and other low shrubs.

In a western area known as Brocks Wood, neglected since World War Two, the renewal of the ancient technique of coppicing will provide further wildlife benefits.

The most controversial element is the removal of older non-native trees like sweet chestnuts, but the council stresses its gradual nature.

Landscape and ecology officer Chris James said: “The wood is 80 hectares.

“Over the last five years, only four hectares have been thinned.”

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