Sutton Heath: Woodland campaigners disappointed by panel decision

A DECISION to set up an advisory panel to address a controversial environment project has failed to appease woodland campaigners.

Opposers of tree-felling at Sutton Heath, near Woodbridge, were left frustrated by the district council’s ruling to establish the panel. But environment bosses argued it would balance public concern with the council’s legal obligation to encourage the restoration of heathland.

Sutton Heath Users Group members Doug Parr and Mike Hazelwood addressed Suffolk Coastal’s cabinet with their objections to the felling of trees to recreate the heathland landscape which existed 100 years ago.

Mr Hazelwood told councillors: “We recognise that some thinning of trees would be appropriate but that is very different to what is being proposed.”

Suffolk Coastal District Council and Natural England have been working to restore an area of open land to allow the sun to heat the soil and encourage wildlife to inhabit low-growing shrubs like heather and gorse. While protecting older, more established trees, it means the reintroduction of a coppice regime in a large copse of sweet chestnut, which campaigners claim is not being done with proper consideration for the value of woodland being lost.

The council says it has a legal obligation to remove some of the existing trees in order to allow the heathland to prosper but a petition signed by 1,200 people calls for the authority to “immediately cease” all forms of work.

Councillors voted to set up a Sutton Heath Advisory Panel, which would include the public – but members of the users’ group left the meeting unhappy, fearing their concerns would not be heard.

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Andrew Nunn, the council’s Green Environment chief, said the panel would provide a local body to help with the planning and management of the land. He added: “We have to find a way of balancing the needs and concerns of some local residents with our legal requirements to encourage the return of the heath to Sutton Heath.

“This panel could have a vital role to play in finding a way forward that satisfies everyone.

“The panel’s role will be to provide the council with advice and could be extended to include a wide range of users.”

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