UK: Corrupt Countrycare cuts Oak forest heart out of Norton Heath Preserve

“I’m absolutely furious. I can’t believe they have come and cut down
all the oak trees. They are absolutely tearing it to pieces. You can
see right through the woodland. They have annihilated it. They have
just gone in there and started cutting everything down and some of
those oak trees must be 80 years old. I remember them being there
since I was a youngster.” said Rosemary Ellis, 58, a resident of
Norton Lane, has lived in the area all her life. Villagers say their
ancient woodland is being destroyed by a conservation group. Residents
living next to Norton Heath Common claim more than 60 trees in the
tiny wood, which is less than five acres, have been torn down.

trees have been chopped down by Countrycare, Epping Forest District
Council’s countryside management service, which has received the
support of the Forestry Commission and Natural England to turn the
site back into heathland. Countrycare says it is thinning out the
trees to allow in more light and encourage a variety of plants and
wildlife. The organisation says it is removing trees from the centre
of the site, leaving a screen of mature oaks around the edge. But
Essex county councillor, Gerard McEwen, who represents Ongar, said:
“To the local residents this is more like a chainsaw massacre and they
are extremely angry that public money should be used in this way. He
added: “We value Countrycare’s work in conservation but it is madness
to be cutting down mature oak trees which have been part of our local
scene for up to 50 years.”

David Little, 68, from Norton Lane, said:
“It’s senseless destruction of good trees. They are taking down
perfectly healthy oak trees and leaving rotten silver birches. It’s
our little woods but I don’t even want to go up there any more because
it makes me so angry.” District councillor Maggie McEwen, who lives in
Norton Heath and represents the area, said: “Countrycare feel it
should be returned to heathland but most local people aren’t happy.
They say it has evolved over time into a wood and should stay like
that. I’m inclined to agree.” High Ongar Parish Council has now asked
Countrycare not to carry out any further work on the site until there
have been further talks with local residents. But the district
council’s head of civil engineering and maintenance, Cllr Richard
Bassett, defended the decision to cut down the trees. He said: “What
we think of as natural landscape, such as Epping Forest, actually
reflects thousands of years of intervention and management. “People
can be nervous about removing trees but management of the woodland is
essential to the long-term health of the area.”

Comments (3)

Calluna vulgarisFebruary 11th, 2009 at 2:38 am

NOTE: The following post is a great and highly detailed explanation of what’s wrong about mis-guided restorationists. Consider that the rare value of living mature trees have greater standing and more credible rights to live than some narrow-minded human notion of “recreating” a resource depleted landscape of a century ago… Also consider that if the author’s group has the right to destroy the land to make it more like a hundred years ago than perhaps I my group has the right to preserve the land to make it more like it was 3000 years ago? Or perhaps we can both agree to not impose our preference on the land and instead let the land simply find it’s own path by limiting our limited sense of manipulative improvements? –Editor, Forest Policy Research
I can’t quite believe that you are taking a local press story as evidence of forest destruction, the world has gone mad!!!

Let’s set the story straight, with some facts, hard to deal with these days I know:

1. Norton Heath, the settlement, was as the name suggests, famous for its heath, documented evidence from 100 years ago record it as an open area with heather and numerous rare plants that no longer exist due to tree cover.

2. It is not an Oak forest, please understand that forest in the UK regards royal hunting grounds from the medieval times, such places exist at Epping Forest and Hatfield Forest. Even royal forests are managed by coppicing, pollarding and tree thinning to recreate important habitats, is this corrupt???!!!

3. The newspaper cutting records the site as ancient woodland, not true, ancient woodland is an area that has been continously wooded since before 1600 AD, not the case with Norton Heath which was open and grazed with numerous gravel diggings. Countrycare would never dream of cutting down ancient woodland, although they may manage trees by coppicing that regenerates them.

4. Countrycare is corrupt, all evidence to the contrary suggests not, they have followed advice from Natural England/consultants and consulted published evidence (were the Essex Field Club botanists in the early 1900s corrupt when they reported the important plants on the site that no longer exist), and shock horror, they have consulted the parish council, and have an interpretation board on site explaining what is going on.

5. Countrycare intend to leave all of the mature Oaks on the site alone, those they removed were only 70 years old max. The intention I believe from what I have read is to keep most of the site an unmanaged woodland. Hardly forest removal is it? Perhaps it is more of a heathy glade where different species to the woodland can perist, dare we mention biodiversity preservation.

Please, please, please, in these days when the media rules the roost and seems to dictate how things progress, take some time to see both sides of a story and keep some sanity in these mad times when removing an tree in the UK is a crime punishable by mass media frenzy.

An interested, but impartial, local resident.

Calluna vulgarisFebruary 13th, 2009 at 8:07 am

Note: I’m grateful for this dialogue… And as you say Countrycare DOES care for trees, but they certainly didn’t care for the 50 trees that they cut down. If they really cared for their country they would correlate their decision making process to the UK’s current deforestation rates / crisis, rather than a fancy or whimsy of what’s aesthetically pleasing.

Overall, we need to work harder to find a better balance! Forests survive because smaller trees are ready to replace big trees if they blow over or die… But too often these trees are not valued at all for their replacement value and are wrongly seen as clutter and competition.

My point is if a tree can’t have legal standing and rights of protection in and of themselves, will anything related to nature ever have similar rights? Did you know Ecuador just wrote the rights of the ecosystem into their Constitution? Now that’s a step in the right direction!
–Editor, Forest Policy Research

Interesting editorial comments, I’d agree that we could go back to recreating the wildwood provinces of 3000 years ago, but realistically which part of Essex has been left untouched or undamaged by humans in the last 1000 years, so to recreate from the long distant past would be impossible given the pressures from agriculture and urban development that the county now faces. I also agree that there are two sides to the argument about whether to manage or not manage. However, what Countrycare have done has not destroyed the land, it has just created an open glade in an otherwise wooded site, surely all forest managers realise the importance of diversity in woodland ecosystems to create habitats for species of open habitats that would have existed in the wildwood when trees fell over due to storms etc. Countrycare’s plan is not to remove all the trees, the most mature and valuable are being left as habitat, and there is the non-intervention area they have left which is probably much bigger than the part they intend to fell on.

I really feel that the outcry against this work has been out of all proportion to what has been done on the ground, approximately 50 trees have been removed, hardly major clearance works on a 3 hectare site. Countrycare have publicised this work on their web pages, which I have followed and read with interest, hardly a corrupt regime trying to hide their intentions from anyone.

What I find most puzzling though, is the assertion online that Countrycare do not value trees, a complete nonsense when you consider the 50 Favourite Trees project run by them in recent years to find Epping Forest’s most ancient veteran trees. This has been crucial in raising the public profile of trees in the district and helping conserve those of most value as ecological and historical features of the landscape. But its not all about trees in Essex, we have many habitats of value that would be lost if planted with trees or allowed to turn into woodland by natural means. Its about getting the balance right and having informed arguments, and reaching a compromise, not jumping in with both feet as the locals and press have done. As a long-time resident of the area, I value Norton Heath as much as anyone, and would hate to see it destroyed by major tree clearance and development, surely a much greater threat to it, than small-scale management to improve it for all wildlife not just those associated with trees.

Mark FisherMarch 24th, 2009 at 3:57 am

I corresponded with local councillors after the tree felling was first reported, and found the typical resentment that a much loved space had been “attacked” without any consideration of local people. Countrycare has since publicly recognised their error in this ommission and has halted any further work! Moreover, everything about the work at Norton Heath Common smacks of it being the plaything of conservation professionals who want to use it as a test bed for their own pet experiments, especially in bringing into this woodland, common insects of open landscapes that are their own particular interest – and their “success” so far has since been “published” on the Conservation Evidence website. The employment of a butterfly specialist from nearby Writtle College is evidence of this, and it does beg the question of whether heathland restoration was ever the primary motive.

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