Sutton Heath: Campaigners’ concerns over heathland restoration continue

Doug Parr. from Sutton Heath Users Group, with their petition

Doug Parr. from Sutton Heath Users Group, with their petition

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to stop ongoing work to return a beauty spot to an area of heathland have continued to voice their concerns.

Sutton Heath Users Group (SHUG) has serious misgivings surrounding the consultation process carried out by Suffolk Coastal District Council (SCDC) and Natural England. The authorities say they have a legal obligation to remove some of the existing trees and encourage wildlife to inhabit low-growing shrubs like heather and gorse. While protecting older, more established trees, it has seen the reintroduction of a coppice regime in a large copse of sweet chestnut. But the tree thinning, which bosses claim is essential if the heath near Woodbridge is to be restored to a healthy and diverse state, has been strongly criticised by a number of regular users, who believe that areas of beautiful countryside are being severely damaged.

The work has been on going for a number of months and it is continuing to draw criticism. Doug Parr, from SHUG, said: “We support heathland restoration within the Sandlings, with the simple exception of Sutton Heath, which represents just 2% of the Sandlings area. This incredibly important area of native woodland and heathland attracts more than 75,000 visitors a year.

“Over the winter deforestation has continued with severe coppicing of the chestnut and birch woodland and more recently signs prohibiting off-lead dog walking have been displayed throughout the site.” He said a petition containing 1,336 signatures against the heathland restoration had been ignored by SCDC, while a questionnaire used during the consultation contained a number of leading questions.

He also said an advisory panel - set up by the district council to consider the views of local users - was heavily weighted in favour of those with an interest in the heathland management. “Why are SCDC so intent on ignoring the majority of local people who oppose this work,” Mr Parr continued. “SCDC often quote it is their legal obligation to carry out heathland restoration but Natural England has confirmed parcels of land can be excluded in special circumstances.”

Andrew Nunn, SCDC’s cabinet member for the green environment, said, as agreed, the advisory group included one member from the Sutton Heath Users Group. “The advisory group will be visiting Sutton Heath in the next fortnight and a special visit has been offered to the SHUG representative so he can see exactly what is being proposed,” he added.

Mr Nunn said coppicing was a well established management method to encourage shrub re-growth for nesting birds. “It would be wrong and unfair to describe this as either severe or deforestation, and any such claims does show a misunderstanding of coppicing and how important it is to ensure a healthy woodland,” he added.

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He said 12 different organisations were represented on the advisory panel to ensure a wide range of views.

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