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Residents fear forest devastation

PUBLISHED: 10:48 10 December 2009 | UPDATED: 17:25 25 August 2010

CONCERN: Graham Matthews.

CONCERN: Graham Matthews.

ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners claim a stay of execution was granted to an ancient woodland facing savage devastation.

ENVIRONMENTAL campaigners claim a stay of execution was granted to an ancient woodland facing "savage" devastation.

Residents near Bexley Park Wood were so alarmed by the council's plans to coppice large swaths of the ancient wood that they formed a lobby group, winning a promise from council bosses to delay the project for one year.

In the latest meeting, members of Friends of Bexley Park Ancient Woods (FOBPAW) met with environmental officers on Monday at Bexley's Railway Tavern to try and safeguard the site's long-term future.

FOBPAW was formed in October this year to fight the coppicing proposals.

They argue that the practice of coppicing - drastically cutting back trees stems to encourage growth - creates scrubland and destroys the existing animal and plant habitat.

Graham Matthews, 59, of Crofton Avenue, said: "There was no consultation about what they were going to do. Sure, the council put up a couple of signs.

"But it wasn't until we saw large areas with red dots on the trees appearing that we realised the true, savage extent of what was being planned - it was tears before bedtime for many residents."

He slammed the council's "propaganda peddling" Bexley Magazine for its claims the project used traditional methods to boost biodiversity when residents believe the plans will have the opposite effect.

Mr Matthews said: "The council have admitted they haven't even done an ecological study because they can't afford it. Nobody wants to see the tree canopy decimated and the wildlife forced to move on.

"They have tried to paint over the strength of feeling against their project that was forced to stop by public outrage. There is no evidence that coppicing promotes bio-diversity.

"This is not sensitively managing the woods but nothing short of ecological vandalism. The wood has all the bio-diversity it needs and has done for over 1,000 years, it should be left alone."

Although the council have agreed to delay its plans for the ancient wood, pressure group members are trying to get the council to ditch the scheme.

At Monday's meeting they agreed to look into paying for an independent ecological survey before any coppicing takes place.

Bexley council said the plans were sensitive and that the opinions in Bexley Magazine were the professional opinion of an experienced woodlands manager.

A spokesperson added: "As most of the hornbeam in the woods have not been cut for many years, a dense canopy has formed which lets little light penetrate onto the woodland floor. Coppicing the trees was carried out regularly in the past and we are working to gradually restore the practice in parts of the site.

"Bexley council has been restoring coppicing in small areas in recent years whilst also trying to help the veteran oaks on the site.

"This woodland would not look the way is does now without being historically coppiced.

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