Sutton Heath: Campaigners to hand in petition over controversial heathland work

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to protect an area of countryside will today hand in a petition calling for an end to a controversial heathland project.

Suffolk Coastal District Council and Natural England have been working to restore Sutton Heath, near Woodbridge, to a landscape that existed around 100 years ago. It has meant protecting the older, more established trees, the restoration of old tree belts and the re-introduction of a coppice regime in a large copse of sweet chestnut.

But the tree thinning, which bosses claim is essential if the heath is to be restored to a healthy and diverse state, has been strongly criticised by a number of regular users, who believe areas of beautiful countryside are being severely damaged.

Sutton Heath Users Group will hand in a petition with 1,300 signatures at the full council meeting of Suffolk Coastal tonight at 7pm.

It will ask the authority to “immediately cease” all forms of work and to engage “fully and constructively” with the sites current users.

Doug Parr, who is spearheading the petition and has used Sutton Heath for 30 years, said: “We feel very strongly that this should be stopped. It means so much to so many people.” Mr Parr said the area they were trying to protect made up just 6% of the overall heathland, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). He said that because this small area was so heavily visited it actually protected the other 94% - creating a quieter environment for important wildlife.

Suffolk Coastal has recommended setting up a Sutton Heath Advisory Panel - which would include members of the users group. But Mr Parr said despite a number of meetings they did not feel their concerns had been listened to. They were simply told what work would be carried out, he said.

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Andrew Nunn, Suffolk Coastal’s cabinet member for the green environment, said there was much common ground between the council and petitioners and he hoped the creation on the panel would help them proceed in a shared way in the future.

He said he recognised there were still concerns but the council was legally required to carry out the work, which would allow the heathland to prosper again.

“Our goal is to provide an area that will be a mosaic of woodland and heathland that will remain a magnet for future generations of people but also the important wildlife for whom this has been a home for centuries,” he added.

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